Monday, November 18, 2013

Cusco, Macchu Picchu and Lake Titicaca


Right now, I am sitting on a boat heading back from Isla del Sol to Copacabana. It is a long trip of 1,5 hours, so this gives me the chance to give an update on our adventures. 
So, the last time I was writing, we were in Cusco. We arrived there two weeks ago, the 6th of November. We were starting our hike the 10th, but due to the altitude during the hike, we were advised to stay a minimum of three days in Cusco. Cusco itself is at 3100 meters, and during our hike we would be reaching 4500 meters (!!), so those three days would allow us to get used to the altitude. We arrived in Cusco around 18h,  and did not really feel any difference. We decided to go out for dinner. Claudio found a cute place 1km from our hostel. Ok no problem! However, Cusco has steep streets, and we to climb a bit. Now we were definitely feeling the difference! We were out of breath immediatly! Even worse, we couldn't find the place... For some reason, the numbering of the houses in the streets is not really cronological, and google maps does not always work. In the meantime, we encountered this problem already multiple times, but this was the first time. So we could not find it and just went to another restaurant nearby. We ordered a pisco sour (a typical Peruvian cocktail, delicious!), and some pizza. We started eating, and all of the sudden we felt lightheaded, disoriented, and superweird. My stomack started turning, damn! We left the restaurant as fast as we could and realised it was the altitude getting to us. For one moment we thought the waiter, who clearly chewed too many coca leaves, slipped something in our drinks, but it was just the altitude. We went to bed early, and slept alot. 
The next day, we already felt better, and headed out to explore the city. Wow, Cusco is so beautiful! We both love it! 
Cusco by night
Plaza de Armas, Cusco

We went to Plaza de Armas, which is the main square and is surrounded by beautiful churches, and other colonial buildings. We learned that the Spaniards destroyed all the temples of the Inca cultures, as they cotained a lot of gold. So they were basically just melted down. So sad to think about it... And it makes you feel guilty that you like the colonial buildings set up by the Spaniards :s 
We walked a bit more uphill, and discovered a beautiful fountain. The area was some kind of hippie place, with a cool relaxed vibe. 
At the end of that day, we went out for dinner, and unfortunately, the next day was not a good day for me and my intestants... I will not go to much into detail, but lets just say I had to stay in as I needed to use the toilet quite often :D
The following day we had a guided tour of the city. This was included in our package with Cusi Travel, for our hike the following day. We visted the center again, but also visted some local markets and saw how people actually live. What a difference with the touristic bubble we were in for three days! People are quite poor in Peru, and this was our first confrontation with reality. Still, Peruvians are kind people and rather shy, not intimidating at all. So we never felt unsafe. We just felt really TALL! All the market stands were like 1m65 high, and we constantely had to bend not to hit the top of the stands. 

Local market in Cusco

It was a really nice tour, and we would recommend it if you are ever in Cusco. Just check out Cusi travel! 

So, right now I'm not on a boat anymore but on a bus towards La Paz. I will continue writing from here as I have gour hours to kill :-)

So, the day after our guided tour we were going to start our hike! We got up at 5.45h, had an early breakfast, and at 6.30h our guide came and picked us up. We drove 1,5h and arrived in Calca. Here you had a little local market where we bought a warm jacket for Claudio, some gloves and hats for when it would get cold at night. We drove another 2 hours and arrived in Lares, where we were going to start our hike. The first hours were already hard, cause we climbed from 3100 to 3700 meters!! It was also very warm so it was pretty tough. However, the views were just spectacular! It was just me, Claudio, and the guide in the middle of the Andes. No other person anywhere... It was so silent, just magnificent. 

Lares hike, Claudio and Juan our guide
Views during the Lares hike

Views during Lares hike

After a couple of hours we arrived at our campsite. It was getting dark and cold, so we put all our warmest clothes on, brrr. There was also no shower, warm water, electricity... Just nature, the moutains and lots of animals (horses, alpaca, lama, dogs, sheep, ...). All the animals also live freely in the mountains, it must be like paradise for them! And they were all so cute and sweet, even the dogs. Anyway, back to the hike :) So, we slept at -5 degrees in our tents, but strangely enough we slept well. We got up at 6am and started the rest of our hike, up to 4500 meters! I was dying OMG. The air was horrible and it was so difficult to breath! But at 12h, we were at the top. We made it!! 

Climbing :)
Sleeping in the valley
¡ Lama's everywhere !

We had lunch, and started decending again, till arriving at 2800 meters again. The third day, we climbed till 3500 again (grrr I though the climbing was over). We saw an old Inca ruin, and our guide explained is alot about the Inca culture, which was really interesting. Finally, we arrived in Ollantaytambo, a small touristic town which is visited for its Inca ruins as well. Finally we could relax. The hiking was over. After three days without showering or going to a decent toilet, we longed for a clean hotelroom. So, we took the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliente with Perurail. We learned from our guide that Perurail has a monopoly for arriving in Aguas Caliente, the town from which you can visit Macchu Picchu. So you cannot get there by car, motorcycle, bus, ... Even the buses that bring you from Aguas Caliente to Macchu Picchu are brought into town by train! The only other way you could get into Aguas Caliente is walking from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliente, but it's about 35km. We met a couple that was actually doing that, as they could not afford the 100$ train ticket! 
Anyway, we took the train and arrived in Aguas Caliente and our lovely hotel room.
For Claudio however, the day was not finished yet... Our guide had told us about the possibility to climb a mountain facing Macchu Picchu. It was a free climb however, there is no official path. Hm, ok, not my thing, plus I was so sick of climbing djeeeez! But Claudio went anyway :) and he made it! He had a nice view over Macchu Picchu so he saw it one day before me. Bravo Clappie!

Behind Claudio the mountain he climbed.
The next morning we were off to Macchu Picchu! We took the first bus to get there at 5.20h so we got up at 4.15h :s. We did this because we wanted to see the sunrise. But we were unlucky because it was super foggy, damn! Anyway, there were only a 100 people there when we entered the site, so it felt a little bit like we had the place to our own... So nice. We also hiked to the sungate to get a nice view from Macchu Picchu (another hike ;) ). It was magnificent. Truly the most beautiful thing that we have ever seen in our lives. The pictures don't do it justice. You have to see it, as it is surrounded by the jungle and different mountains. It's just amazing. 

Macchu Picchu

In the evening, we headed back to Cusco with the train (4 long hours). We stayed there for another two days, just to rest from our tyring hike. But last Friday, it was time to say goodbye to cutsie Cusco . We were sad to leave as we really loved it here! But it was time a new adventure. Up to lake Titicaca!

We took a night bus from Cusco to Puno, which is a town at the Peruvian side of the lake. We drove with Cruz del Sur, which has really nice busses. We read about so many horror stories of accidents and drunk bus drivers, so we decided to go with a more reliable company. It was an 8 hour trip, very comfortable. At sunrise we arrived at the lake. 
Puno itself it not really nice actually, and we were happy to leave for Copacabana, the Bolivian side of the lake. So we hopped on another bus. We crossed the border easily, it's so good to be European. We just got a smile and a stamp on our passports. Americans on the other side had to fill in some documents and had to pay 130$. An American girl told us that it's the same for Peru, Brasil, and other South American countries. They do it because the US treats them in the same way. So it's some kind of "revenge"...
After three hours we arrived in Copacabana. It was so beautiful! The next day, we got up early, and took a boat trip of 2 hours to get to Isla del Sol. We went to the north side of the island, and did a four hour hike over the island to get to the south side. Many people did the same, and it was also a fun way to get to know people! We also noticed that there were many people that we saw in Cusco or Macchu Picchu, that were now with us in Copacabana. So weird!
So, the hike was tough again, climbing in the hot sun, but the views were so beautiful... So peaceful and calming. 
Hiking Isla del Sol
Gorgeous views at Isla del Sol

At night we were back, and the following day we were leaving for La Paz. But that will be for my next post! 

So, until now, we saw beautiful places. We enjoyed the food, the nature, the historical sites, the Inca culture, and the weather. Now it's time for 2 weeks of Bolivia!! I will keep you all updated 😉

We send you all positive vibes, some sunshine, and lots of love ❤ 

Big kisses,
Marj & Cla

Friday, November 8, 2013

Our first days: London, Lima and Cusco

Hello everybody!

So, here I am, in Cusco, writing my first real post while I am actually not in Belgium :-) One week ago, we left Hasselt, and it already seems so long ago! The day before we were about to leave, on Thurday 31/10/2013, I looked at Claudio and we both tought the same: what the f*** are we doing? We are leaving our easy life, our jobs, security, friends, family, the cats, our apartment. Oh my god, what did we do? And there I was, with nothing but my 10 kg backpack in front of me. No, we will be OK, we have to be strong, come on! And the moment passed, and we felt excited again. It was very hard to say goodbye to everybody though. Wednesday night I saw my mam, and Thursday night I said goodbye to Davinia  and Pieter. And Friday was the last Belgian/Italian lunch at my dad's place, and my sister stopped by as well to say goodbye. Everybody was great, and it was very difficult for me, but I promised myself that I was not going to cry so I didn't. Let's stay positive :-) So Friday afternoon, my dad brought us to Brussels midi where we took the Eurostar to London at 15h. Our adventure had begun!

In London, we booked our accomodation through airbnb, as London is rather expensive. We stayed at a lovely woman´s place, Ilona. She was very nice and made us feel at home. It was actually better to stay with someone, because you avoid the empty character of a hotel, where you are isolated from other people. We had a cute room, so off to a good beginning. At night, we headed to Picadilly Circus, and had a meal at Jamie Oliver's Diner. It was soooo good! We had a cheeseburger and fries, with some salad. Note that I ate a burger on day one, so there goes my veggie diet!! In my defense, they claimed to use biological meat ;) ;)

Dinner at Jamie Oliver's :)

The next day, we went into town again, to South Kensington, a neighbourhood in London. Afterwards, we went to Oxford street, as we were meeting a friend there who is studying in Oxford now. We visited the Big Ben, Westminister Abby and walked on the South Bank. It was so much fun to see a familiar face in the beginning of the trip, so we can ease into this trip better. At night, we said goodbye to Mike, and had another lovely dinner at a Turkish place. We were actually staying in a Turkish neighbourhood, Green Lanes. Super friendly people and delicious food everywhere. And surprisingly cheap for London.

Turkish salad
Oxford Street 

The next day was already time to leave. We left Ilona's place at 9AM and headed to Heathrow, which took one hour. Then we had our first flight to Miami, which took another 9,5 hours. So we landed in Miami at 17h (+6h), and then we had to wait a long 7 hours to our next flight to Miami. I fell asleep at the airport cause I was so destroyed. Then I was able to sleep on the plane again so when we landed at 5 AM I was ready to start the day :)

Marj sleeping at Miami Airport

We took a cab to our next Airbnb host, Rachel. She is living in beautiful part of Lima, Miraflores. This is the richer area of Lima. We decided to stay in this area because the center of Lima is considered to be rather dangerous, and we thought that for the beginning of the trip it would be better to stay in comfortable places where we feel safe. We will also be returning the middle of December to Lima for three days, so we'll tackle the center then :)
So we arrived in Lima and the first things we noticed was that EVERYBODY uses their claxon like crazy!! There was so much noise on the street, really old cars everywhere with lots of dirty smoke coming from the cars. Sometimes I did not even want to breath brrr. But I guess I'd rather get used to it, cause now we are in Cusco and it's exactly the same. Anyway, traffic was crazy, and our taxi driver drove through the red light, and honked his horn 25 times, but we arrived safely in Miraflores.
Our room was a bit disappointing compared to the other place we stayed in. I didn't trust the cleanliness of the sheets so I just slept in my sleepingbag for two days. After taking a shower, we went for a walk alongside the ocean. We encountered a huge mall, and went inside. It seemed like we were in Europe, very high prices and rich people everywhere. It seemed fake. No doubt that only the richest of Lima can shop here. After this, we went to the beach, and layed down a bit. It was only 20 degrees and cloudy, so not in our bikini's but in our jeans and warm hoodies. We watched some people surf, relaxed and read a bit. At night, we had an amazing dinner, and probably the best fish I ever ate in my life! So far, only good food, njam. Lima is also known to be the food capital of South America, and now I understand why! Also the day after, we had an amazing lunch and dinner.... at the supermarket :) If you are ever in Lima, go to supermarket Wong: you don't spend a lot and the food is amazing. The second day, we visited the center of Miraflores, the park, and checked out the neighbourhood.

Sunset in Lima
Please do not honk your horn all the time :)

Tasty and cheap lunch
So Wednesday we already left again, on to Cusco! We decided to take a plane to Cusco as it is only 1hour. With the bus it would have been 20 hours, so after our superlong flight from London, we were not really in the mood to travel that long again. So we were off to the airport, and it took forever to get there in the crazy traffic of Lima. At one point, we were even stuck on a railway that ran right through the road, without any stopsigns or anything. And all of the sudden a train was coming, and we were ON the rails!! I thought, omg, I will have to jump out of the taxi, but then maybe, the taxi driver will steal our luggage, but I don't want to dieeeeeee hahaha but right on time the taxi moved and I was still alive :D Our flight itself had a 3 hour delay...But yeah, that seems typical here. Everybody is so relaxed, everything takes forever. Even to pay at the cash register takes 10 minutes, when you are the only client! Luckily I am on holidays, so I can stand it. I think if they would see how fast we live in Europe, they would not understand why we rush everything so much. Just take it easy :)
So we are in Cusco now. But I will write about this amazingly beautiful city when we return from our hike next week. There is too much to say and too many pictures to upload. And the computer is sooooo slow, so I am losing my patience a little bit. So next week, there will be another uplate. Until then, hasta luego!