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Saturday, 11 June 2016 Perú

Oh, Peru!

It has definitely been awhile, I just can't seem to keep track of time and I don't even know where to begin. But I guess I'll try to recap my adventures in Peru.

It all really began in Lima, where I met my new group. And let me tell you, this group loooved to party. But being the whimp I was, far too tired to actually function the first night there, I went straight to bed. Which in my defense was acceptable as for our plane to Arequipa the next morning we had to leave at the most ungodly hour. Of course some of us didn't manage to get up at said hour, but in the end we did catch our plane. Landing in Arequipa was quite something because of the altitude (Can't remember how high up it was though...) and as soon as we stepped off the plane the panorama was just amazing. Volcanoes and humongous mountains reaching into the sky everywhere, it was incredible.

Arequipa itself was a beautiful colonial city and if you stretchd your neck high enough you were able to see some volcanoes in the distance. Seeing a couple of artisanal shops on our tour through the city, I knew straight away what I'd be doing after, my wallet didn't thank me. We visited a beautiful monastery with an unbelievable interesting history and nearly got lost in the beauty and vastness of it. Had my little shopping time and believe it or not; I actually tried Alpaca meat. Still not a fan of meat so wasn't that special but the fancy restaurant we were eating at gave us bibs - that says it all.

Next stop was Colca Canyon and I guess this was the point where I must have fallen in love with Peru. Can't even put the beauty of what we've seen into words, it's incredible how the land just folds out in front of you changing every couple of kilometres with some Vicuñas here and there and once in a while a gigantic Lama gang in the middle of the street. You won't get so see that in Switzerland. That was also the point where I was introduced to Coca leaves for the first time (and they have been my fellow friends up until now!). Yes, coca leaves are from an amazing little plant that when paired with some specific chemicals turn into lovely cocaine. That's also why the US started raiding plantages all over Columbia, Peru and Bolivia trying to keep the cocaine production at bay. The leaves itself are however harmless, in fact, to the people living in the Andes or at any higher altitude it is a necessity as it helps them deal with the altitude. That is why you always see men and women with one of their cheeks as round as a ball, chewing on their coca leaves. I have to say though I wasn't a big fan of the leaves at first (there's lovely proof of that on video which might end up in the travel vlogs). We had an actual ritual where we thanked pacha mama (mother earth) and then stuck them bad boys in our mouths. The taste is something to get used to and you aren't actually supposed to chew on them as you'll just end up with green bits all over your mouth. Just stick the ball to the side and let it do its magic when in contact with your saliva. At first your whole mouth will probably go numb, but what the leaves should do is to still hunger and thirst, good for the indigenous people workong the fields all day long, and preventing altitude sickness. Not really sure what it did for me at that moment and was pretty glad when I was able to chuck the ball into the bin (tried them again in Bolivia and was actually quite glad to have them as the altitude was making me feel reaaally lousy!) I like the magic tea though, an infusion of the leaves and some other herbs. After our coca leaf consumption though our bus ride got pretty fun, might've had something to do with the leaves. Everybody was up on their feet and dancing to 'El Taxi' (greeeat song by Pitbull haha) Fun times.

That day we also reached the highest point I thought I'd ever reach (nope, gonna get higher and didn't like it..) which was 4910 msmm which is pretty damn high. There was snow (!) and at first the altitude doesn't really get to you but after a couple of minutes up there during which I decided to run around a bit for whatever reason, you DEFINITELY start to feel something. Was pretty glad to go down a couple of hundred meters after that.

Visited a local market, stayed at a beautiful hotel in the middle of nowhere and did some ziplining again imitating spider man. Saw huuuge condors which were definitely worth getting up for early, shopped a bit and dressed up in peruvian traditional wear. Oh, and the hot springs were quite something aswell (;

Puno, Titicaca Lake was where we headed to next. A pretty strange city, in which I got lost in twice after some crazy nights out, but enchanting nevertheless. The lake though was definitely the highlight (also the fact that we got driven to it on tuktuks). Visiting the people living on the floating islands, islands actually made out of reef and no electricity, hearing them dance and sing was absolutely beautiful. We then drove a couple of hours across the lake, seeing the Bolivian mountain range in the distance and arrived at a beautiful island with only a couple of families living on it. We were warmly welcomed by each and eveyone and what still amazes me up to this point how the people in all the countries I've visited so far not only wore their traditional wear for the tourists sake but actually do so for themselves. Probably to be able to tell who's single, in a complicated relationship or definitely taken as they wear either hats, braids or other factors as indicators ;) The island along with the people were breathtaking and after a delicious meal we played soccer on the beach (sooo hard at 3800msmm, nearly died from lack of oxygen) and even went for a sneaky little swim in the lake which was freezing. One of the guys went skinny-dipping, he definitely froze his little butt off.

Nearly forgot what our next stop was, it's just really hard to keep track of it all... 

Cusco it was, a city I knew I'd be coming back to (which I did, and stayed longer than expected). Exploring the historic capital of the Inca Empire was quite something. Again, locals in their traditional wear on every corner. Here you noticed the effects of tourism more though. They tried to take pictures with you and their lamas or baby lambs whenever they could. Really you shouldn't support them as the lambs, which they carry around all day, mostly aren't able to walk, pretty damn sad. And to be honest, I really wouldn't enjoy getting spat in my face by a lama.
The capital of the inca empire was also a shopping paradise. And I guess as the cold was getting to me I had some excuses to buy pretty "alpaca" jumpers and other little useless things. Nightlife in Cusco is also pretty great, but again, you gotta get used to the altitude first. But I did get to dance salsa again, got free pisco sours prefer coca sours, yum!) and drink cheap mojitos, don't really need anything else.

On our way to our stop before the great inca trail we visited a lama/alpaca farm and saw how the locals handcraft beautiful textiles. If I had more space in my lovely mochilla, I would have bought a lot more! Passed by a couple more inca terasses and buildings, which is of course always interesting (think I've seen enough of them now though..) Ollantaytambo, the little village in the Sacred Valley, was enchanting. Little alleyways winding through it with lovely restaurants - the perfect place to prepare oneself for the Inca trail.

And soon enough the time had come, to once again get up freaking early in the morning to finally mount Machu Picchu! Excited as ever in the dawn we trotted to the train which was going to transport us a bit further into the Sacred Valley where our 7h hike would begin. I was a bit apprehensive as I spontaneously decided to do the Inca trail a couple days back and wasn't sure how my knee'd do or I'd react to the altitude. But in the end, I'm so glad I did it. The feeling when you reach the sun gate (after climbing up literal monkey steps) and finally spot Machu Picchu below you is just so satisfying and I guess not the same as when you just get driven to it. Also the things you see and experience on the hike are just not comparable. You share your pain and agony with everyone on the trek, motivate each other, get to see beautiful wildlife and notice how it changes on the way - it was just amazing!

Machu Picchu, however, although it was pretty great and left me speechless, didn't really meet my expectations. It was impressive, I'm definitely not denying that, but the trail did more for me, to be honest. We went up a second time form Aguas Calientes next morning to see the sun rise over the lost city and simply because the day before, we were too tired to really explore it. The sunrise was beautiful, probably also due to the fact that Machu Picchu wasn't overrun by nosy tourists yet (: To be there the earliest though, my fellow roomie and to other girls stood in the queue for the bus up at about 4.30am, simply to be able to snag ourselves the best spots to enjoy the sunrise. It was definitely worth it.

After that pretty successful achievement, off we were back to Cusco and on our train everybody just knocked out, which is how we got some sneaky pictures. The next day there wasn't really any time for relaxing as I had signed up for water rafting (oh god) in a freezing cold river. It was amaaazing though and to treat my sore muscles from paddling and the hike two days before, we indulged ourselves in a welldeserved massage. 

(this wrapped-up,little lady always managed to fall asleep on top of me haha - miss you MJ!)

Peru, as pretty much every country I've visited so far has just blown my mind. It was beautiful and can't wait to show off my other adventures in the inca land. But that's for my next post (:

Joelle x

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