Both cost and comfort were the major factors in deciding not to do the famous Inca trail where you trek for 3 or 4 days following the original path through rocky terrains, high altitude and steep steps to get to Machu Picchu. The more I have travelled the more I am open to slumming it but when we were faced with over £600 cost each to have this experience of freezing nights in a tent and toilets that make the Glastonbury portaloos look luxurious we opted against it.
Instead we hunted around Cusco for the best price to get us to see the iconic Inca ruins the *ahem* lazy way. This meant an early start to catch the bus to a small town called Ollayantaytambo (try saying that drunk!) and then catching a train which drove through Jurassic Park-esque scenery to arrive at Aguas Caliente, the closest town to Machu Picchu.
Literally translated as Hot Waters this town is not only famous for its neighbour Machu Picchu but being the stopover for those who have completed the trek or are waiting until the early morning to get to the ruins. It is seemingly created for tourists with hundreds of similar restaurants toppled around a gushing river, large indoor market selling everything from llama blankets to flashy cameras, and touts desperate to entice you into their bars with happy hour offers practically 24/7.
What this playmobile town also boasts is a natural hot springs where large outdoor pools are heated with the warm flowing hillside water. Us, Valentina and Desiree (two lovely girls we met at the school from Italy and Holland) jumped at the chance to get warmed up for the first time since arriving in Peru and were soon squelching up the narrow streets in the drizzling rain to get there. Costing just 10 soles (£2.50) each we quickly changed into our cozzies and shivered down to the pool area where greeny murky waters awaited us. Ok so it may not be luxury and it did smell slightly of an aquarium but once in the waters our shoulders relaxed and we were surrounded by jawdroppingly gorgeous views that far made up for the hygiene levels.
It was the coolest/weirdest sensation of shrivelling up like a prune due to the warmth but your head getting cold raindrops at the same time! If you had been brave enough to complete the trek then this would feel like paradise for your sore muscles and I definitely recommend it. Sitting back with a cold beer, finally feeling warm and relaxed and staring up at misty mountain peaks while hearing exotic bird song is something I will never forget.
Coming next week: Machu Picchu. Happy Halloween and have a great weekend!
The Spanish school we are currently taking lessons with every day also holds heaps of activities for the students to get involved in. We have tried salsa dancing, attended a yoga class (which had a Peruvian grandma that spoke no English as the teacher and took place next door to a kid’s karate lesson which did nothing for our state of Zen!) but one activity we both enjoyed was the chocolate making class. It was so easy and fun to do it would make a great homemade gift or a way to keep your kids occupied on a rainy afternoon!
In a small group we sat down to the dreamy smells of melted chocolate that we proceeded to paint into the plastic moulds making sure that no light could get through. It was actually really therapeutic just relaxing and chatting to the other students who came from Germany, Switzerland and Holland.
Then you add whatever filling you want! We chose gooey caramel sauce and chopped peanuts kinda like a bite sized snickers bar then painted a thick layer of chocolate over the top to seal it all in. Pop this into the freezer for less than 10 minutes and then turn the mould upside down and pop them out. If you have any leftover chocolate then drizzle it over the nuts to make a chocolate nut brittle that can also set in the freezer. Simples!
This would also be a super easy Christmas present idea if anyone is thinking that far ahead yet?
You may know about my challenges with learning the French language so being a sucker for punishment I also decided there was room in my brain for another language – Spanish! A lot of people had warned us that travelling around South America mostly comes with difficulties in the lingo department. If you don’t have a basic command of Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil) then your trip could be a whole lot harder.
In school it was either French or German GCSEs and even after quite a few holidays in Spain I still didn’t know my hola from my adios so we decided it would be worthwhile to learn the basics whilst being completely immersed in a Spanish speaking country, as well as hopefully help us out of any tight spaces for the rest of our trip.
My friend had recommended Academa Latino Americana as they have offices in Peru, Bolivia and Equador plus they give the option of learning Spanish with volunteering in the local community.
Being an unashamed geek I was really excited to go back to school and had my notepad and highlighters at the ready. The groups are kept really small (we are just three in our class) so it means you have to speak even if that is pretty terrifying. I will admit that I got teary in my first lesson as it was so hard! It was more frustration tears that fell especially as the teachers only speak Spanish in the lessons but it also made me determined to try my best and soak up as much as I could.
As well as inhaling vocabulary as if the words are going to disappear we have also been tested on grammar including irregular verbs. I now realise how my students must have felt! I told you how cold Cusco gets… well in the class this morning our teacher gave the lesson wearing her coat, we had blankets on our shivering knees and she was wearing thick gloves to write on the board! Hardcore school days!
We went to the local market yesterday to stock up on fresh veg (a real money saver) and a gnarled toothed stall holder spoke to us and I could understand! I wanted to kiss him I was so chuffed with our progress but I didn’t because of the whole random strange old man thing. I also didn’t realise how much I had subconsciously picked up from watching Breaking Bad thanks los pollos hermandos!
Have you ever learnt a foreign language in this way before?
I have no idea how the Peruvians live like this. At the moment in the day it is high twenties in the sun but there is always an icy wind especially when you step into the shade. At night it gets dark and so cold so quickly. Come 6pm you need to be adding an extra layer and preferably wrapped up in bed. We found it hard to adjust to this relaxed early nights and early starts lifestyle especially after arriving from busy bustling Rio.
There are no heaters or insulation in the houses just thin rickety windows, tiled floors and tons of blankets. Our bathroom doesn’t even have panes of glass in so running to get a (thankfully hot) shower is a challenge.
We were stupidly unprepared for how cold it gets here and our lamely packed backpacks represent this. Instead of bikinis, shorts and flip flops I so wish we had woolly hats, thermals and snuggly slippers. I haven’t longed for thick socks so much in my life. As we are planning to visit so many different countries in South America, each with their own climate it was always going to be a struggle to pack suitably but we completely messed up here!
Luckily my mum has sent us an aid parcel containing vital thick socks and there are plenty of shops selling alpaca and llama fleecy jumpers but being on a budget it seems quite a luxury to go shopping. The one bonus is that being so cold has made us appreciate how lucky we are back home to flick a switch on the central heating. With every day we are acclimatising slowly and currently managing to keep an ok temperature with just two layers rather than the three or four we were wrapped up in when we first arrived!
If I could give you any advice it would be to really research how cold places get and not expect that the houses will be warm! Right I am off to make another cup of herbal tea (god I’m really starting to miss a mug of Tetley) and add some gloves as my fingertips have got icy just typing this!
We left Rio early and boarded the flight to Lima where we had to change to arrive in Cusco around 7 hours later. What was annoying is that in Lima (which was clouded in depressing grey fog) we had to collect our bags, re-check in and go through security rather than just a straight transfer. An hour and a tiny wobbly plane later we flew into a sunny, colourful Cusco.
The airport is really small and seemingly just built near adorable little houses that line the hilly mountains. We were met by a transfer as we are planning to stay here for 5 weeks to learn Spanish and volunteer so had pre-arranged accommodation with the language school (which I will do a future post on).
The tiny taxi beeped its way past half-finished buildings, cobbled pavements and women in traditional Peruvian style clothes holding baby llamas. The thing that struck me straight away is that there are no skyscrapers or gleaming shiny high rises. Everything seems to be made in traditional stone and no higher than a few floors. It sort of reminds me of Nepal but much much nicer as for some reason I did not enjoy that place!
They are very proud of the Inca heritage and there are numerous museums dotted around as well as ornate stonework in this style. It is a world away from the cosmopolitan craziness of Rio as although the traffic is pretty manic here they seem to live very relaxed lifestyles with food, family and rest high on their agenda.
It was pretty strange how as soon as night falls most people retreat into the relative warmth of their houses/beds (as it is so cold here). At first we were wondering if we were missing out on something but after talking to a lot of other backpackers here it’s just that people get up early and go to bed early, especially if you are on a budget and can’t be dining out or clubbing every night. We don’t have any Wi-Fi where we are staying hence the random timings of my blog posts but this digital detox is both a positive and negative. It means proper sleep, great long conversations and less pressure to keep up with the Joneses but when I do find a good Wi-Fi connection I turn into some crazed crack addict whoops!
Did I also mention how cold it is here? Even in the blinding daytime sun there is a chill especially being so high up in the world. Both the icy temperatures and altitude sickness are nothing like I have ever experienced before. I will post on this in the future as it has been a battle to overcome both these things let me tell you!