Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Right before lunch we had our faces painted and were given our Quechuan (the native Peruvian Incans) names; mine was Puma which was lucky because it meant I had a chance of remembering it. Everyone else had to battle with multi-syllable mouthfuls that sounded like they were speaking through the remnants of a small rodent. Which we soon were, because lunch was the traditional Peruvian meal of Cuy.
|Oh yeah, monkey house had turkeys. Aren't they ridiculous?|
What is Cuy, I hear you (maybe) say? Guinea Pig. Just like the one you used to play with as a kid, in the backyard at home. I had been looking forward to trying the little rat bastards for a while at this stage, and was delighted to discover that we could choose which of the furry little delights we wanted to consume. Our guide recommended picking the fattest looking one as they were meant to be the tastiest. Our first choice wasn’t allowed because it was pregnant but the cook couldn’t see a problem with our second option. Let’s call her Madeline. Grabbing her by the back feet and the head, she pulled gently until Madeline’s cute little neck snapped and she breathed her last.
The lady was surprised to see Madeline still moving when she put her onto the table (in fact, she moved enough to fall right off). It turns out that Maddy was actually pregnant as well, effectively turning us into monstrous animal-baby killers. If hell exists and I wasn’t already on the list, I must be now. To be completely honest, it dropped the tone of the experience a fair bit. Bad times. Still, there was no point in letting poor Madeline go to waste so she was expertly plucked and gutted by our cook, who then impaled her with a skewer and barbequed her to secret Peruvian recipe specifications.
The result wasn’t all that good. There wasn’t all that much meat for a start, and what there was tended towards really fatty or really chewy. The flavour wasn’t anything to write home about either (although I suppose that’s what I’m doing right now). Having said that, if you get the chance to munch a Guinea pig (without forever scarring a small child by eating their pet) then I think you should take it.
Once we had gotten the Cuy down us we were back to the hiking. It was a fairly long day on foot overall and by the end of it some members of the group were pretty done with the whole thing. We were on the actual Inca Trail in the afternoon and it was stunning. There were some good high narrow sections to keep us on our toes. We also stopped at a point with a great view and Towny and I expressed ourselves with the physical form. I think the results are quite poignant.
|Cheers Towny for the awesome photo and for letting me play grab-ass with you in the far left part of the shot.|
|A good spot to really ponder life's big issues.|
Fortunately at the end of the day there was a little treat waiting for us across a river (which we crossed in a little basket on a wire which was pulled over by a little old man – I took a turn and pulled some people across for him). At the end of our trek we got to splash around in some hot pools for a while, and I had been carrying a treat for us for the last two days: a fine bottle of Appleton’s rum.
|It's the team!|
Our poor rum never even got the chance to encourage us to make bad decisions. While we were lurking in the hot pools some tosspot Englishman managed to knock over the bottle, smashing it. He achieved this despite the fact that it was tucked away under a lounger - quite a feat. To say I was gutted would be understating the issue. Apart from the fact that I love a good rum, I had lugged the bloody thing a long way (it weighed about a good chunk of my total bag) and now I wouldn’t get to enjoy the rewards for my toils.
|Dodgy as river crossing mechanism|
It turned out the English dude wasn’t so bad and replaced our rum on the spot, although with a lesser bottle (luckily they were selling booze at the pool, you’ve gotta love South America). It was remarkably pleasant sitting in some hot pools drinking rum, and we all got a bit tipsy which was good as it encouraged us to keep drinking through dinner and then go out to a sub-par nightclub in the middle of nowhere. I had a bit of a bad one, got too drunk for anyones good, had a bust time and lost my wallet with my one credit card in it.
Therefore I was less than pleased with life the next day when I woke up. I had effectively lost any access to cash that I had. This is the one thing you don’t want to happen to you while you are travelling. They always say you should travel with more than one credit card and I thought I had just found out why, the hard way. But I’m a lucky bastard sometimes and this was one such occasion.
We went out to our next activity, ziplining. I was still pretty raw about the wallet thing so it was thrilling to find out that a gringo in one of the other tour groups had found someone’s wallet last night, at the very bar I was in no less! They were leaving as we arrived but we were going to the same place for lunch so I was hopefully to be reunited with my leathery friend and his plastic cashflow treats in the near future.
With that off my mind I could get to grips with ziplining hungover. The worst part was the walk up the hill to the first line, it definitely got me into the pain cave with the heat and the steepness. I’m also reasonably afraid of heights so ziplining was a bit out of my comfort zone but after the first line I settled down a bit. It’s mighty good fun. I also bent the rules a bit and managed to convince the operator it was a good idea to let me go sin ropa for one of the lines. Another little highlight was seeing Michelle Rodriguez there, as she was with another tour group about to get amongst it as we were leaving. Neat.
|Spot the bollock. Photo courtesy of Eric (he's very courteous when he doesn't know about it).|
Lunch saw me reunited with my wallet and very grateful for it. It was a very lucky escape for me there and I vowed not to hit the piss with my credit card ever again (I’ve since failed on that goal). The afternoon hike was a bit grim for me as it was flat and along a railway track. That’s barely hiking as far as I’m concerned and certainly not my idea of a good time. After a few hours we arrived in Agua Calientes (which means hot water, who calls a town that?), the nearest settlement to Machu Picchu. We had a pretty relaxed and early night as we were getting up stupidly early the next morning to visit the ruins themselves.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
|Eric limbers up for the big ride.|
Machu Picchu was the last big-ticket attraction left on my roster for South America this trip. By this time I was getting a bit jaded towards the massive tourist attractions anyway but it had been said that Machu Picchu was unmissable so miss it I would not. To get there we (Townie, Eric and myself) decided to do the “Inca Jungle trek”, a package which involved cycling, rafting, hiking, zip-lining, hot-pools and climaxed in a visit to the site itself.
An early start was required as the boys piled hungover into the minivan for the drive to the start of the tour. Joining our group were three Argentinians and a couple of Europeans. It was shaping up to be a good bunch. The drive out took about an hour and a half, and provided a perfect opportunity to take in some Peruvian countryside. The road climbed fairly steeply and consistently to the start of the ride which boded well for some gravity assisted fun.
|Highly enthusiastic about my quality wheels.|
The actual ride was a bit disappointing for me. We basically just bombed some very poorly maintained mountain bikes down a road. Some of the views were stunning but it didn't really get the adrenaline going. We did try to make it a bit more interesting by trying to get off-road as much as possible but the opportunities weren't really there. The pace was also fairly relaxed for me even on the road. All in all, this was not a highlight.
|There were definitely some views ...|
|And some healthy nudity.|
After another drive and a sketchy lunch in a small Peruvian restaurant we were into the white water rafting. This was something I had never done before but always wanted to crack into. The rapids got up to grade 3, which wasn’t anything to get too excited about but at least seemed a bit dangerous. We were collected in a run-down van with a couple of inflatable rafts strapped to the top. This did not fill me with confidence.
At the river we were issued with some South-American quality safety gear and given a brief run-down of basic raftsmanship. Then we were straight into it. The theory of rafting is pretty simple: you have a guide at the back and some paddlers down either side. These paddlers, through joint effort and the co-ordination of the guide, steer the raft in specific directions and attempt to generally provide an aspect of control as the vessel wetly careens down a large and angry river. There’s a bit more to it in practice though.
|Photograph shamelessly thieved without permission from Towny.|
We had a blast. Our guide was extremely competent and a funny guy who knew enough English to throw down some wisecracks. I was lucky enough to start off up the front as well, so I was in the thick of it. Being winter at the time, the water was cold but not unbearable which was lucky as I was drenched after the first set of rapids. I did get over having my crown jewels constantly getting dunked however. The front of the raft tended to buck and then dig in with some intensity, cascading water over me. For a novice like me it was exciting stuff. We were able to safely navigate our way through all of the sets of rapids, something like 12 in all. Rafting definitely gets a tick as something I would like to do more of.
|A further potential infringement of photo ownership rights.|
I did get into some trouble in a slow section right at the end, when we all jumped out. The guide had said not to stand up because the raft would float off and there would be no chance to catch up to it. Of course, the first thing I did was stand up. Man, could that raft move. It was clear there was no chance of me catching the raft and we were approaching the next set of rapids, meaning that I was in what you would call a predicament. The rapids were going to be gnarly enough to inflict some serious pain (okay, probable death) if I went through them so I was pleased to grab on to a massive tree stump that conveniently presented itself (as the river was by now going too fast to stand up in). All of this resulted in me needing to be rescued by the guide, who threw me a rope from the bank.
We were pretty sedate that night as it was an early start for a trek the next day. The trek started too early to have considered anyone’s wellbeing and began with a dull slog along a flat gravel road for about an hour at the groups pace (slow). I got interested when we got onto some actual hiking trail. What’s more it was steep too, and heading upwards. It was good to do something physical after so much time spent in drunken stupor at Cuzco. I got my sweat on pretty thoroughly in the jungle humidity but was in no way the worst off which was nice. After a couple of hours of this we approached the monkey house, a little place set up in the hills where we stopped for lunch.
|Part way up the hike, It is rumoured that the building with the bright green roof (almost dead centre of the photo)|
is a facility in which a certain infamous white powder is produced ...
Lunch was a fairly interesting affair. Find out why in part two of this spiel, yet to be completed …
Thursday, December 8, 2011
By the time I arrived in Cuzco I was in the mood to settle in one spot for a bit. As I still had a few weeks left in my trip I decided to spend a couple weeks in Cuzco, which I had heard good things about. It was an easy decision because a bunch of friends I had met earlier in the trip were going to be there at the same time. This boded poorly for me doing anything constructive (as was the case) but meant that good times were practically guaranteed.
I’m not going to go on too much about what happened in Cuzco. You had to be there. We spent a good dose of our time in the Wild Rover bar. This hostel is a bit of a special experience which has to be done at least once if you travel South America. I would advise against staying any significant time or working there if you at all value your health (especially your liver). But it’s the best party hostel on the continent, and there are several of them in a few cities.
Cuzco itself is a very beautiful place which seemed to offer the opportunity to participate in many wholesome activities if you weren’t too hungover. But for me it was just a nice place to chill out by day. I’m told it looks like a poor man’s European city. The square is impressive, with a beautiful big open space and a fountain. One side is lined with a kfc and a McDonald’s which is hugely disappointing (unless you’re hungover), but at least they’re in an incredible building. Cuzco is a bit of a tourist trap though – it tends towards expensive and everyone is trying to sell you something.
Cuzco is the closest major city to Machu Picchu, which is why it is so geared towards tourists. Machu Picchu was the next adventure in my itinerary (I’m lying, I made it all up as I went along) and I was stoked to be doing it with Townie, my long time travelling buddy, and Eric, who I met during my bender in Sucre and had seemed solid then. A few nights drinking with him in Cuzco proved we would be good company. I was looking forward to having myself a time on the 4 day trip.