Friday, June 21, 2002


03 June 2002
Today I arrived in Peru. I took a bus from Copacabana which stopped for a few hours in Puno, widely regarded as a bit of a dump, and after a few hours looking around here I'd have to agree. The next bus arrived in Cuzco early in the morning. I found a cheap hotel so I can have my own room with a telly to watch the World Cup. I've already booked in for some white water rafting tomorrow. Typically, the channel showing the football has already disappeared.

04 June 2002
The white water rafting was poor compared to Chile, so no need to say any more about that! Found a nice place to go for dinner with Petra and Jeff, a yank who turned out to be really annoying. Yesterday I made a reservation for the Inca Trail. I had a recommendation from an Aussie girl I met in the internet cafĂ©. I saw an Irish bar called Rosie O' Grady's. There were two big screens, one showing NBA, the other baseball. The cornerstones of any authentic Irish bar. By chance I bumped into Geordie and Ayaka yesterday (the couple from Puerto Natales). Small world, or at least, small gringo trail. Unfortunately Ayaka got robbed in La Paz. Today I went to The Inca museum, very disappointing.
The shopkeepers and souvenir sellers here are very annoying. They don't leave you alone and are far too intense for their own good. Example:

"Cigarettes amigo?"
"No gracias"
"I have different brands"
"I don't smoke"
"But it's good price"
"Go away!"

I got caught out the other day by a little kid selling postcards. He showed me the prices – s/18 (about €6) for six cards. I calculated using Bolivianos so it sounded like a good deal. The next day the same kid showed me prices which were now reduced by half. That one was my own fault, but these Peruvians are slick operators. They'd slit your throat and you wouldn't know it till you go to nod your head. Or so the story goes.

06 June 06
The Inca Trail
Day 1
I got picked up outside the hostel early in the morning and driven to the village of Ollantytambo for lunch and then on to km82 to start the hike. A small group which is good and they all seem OK. We walked about 3 hours from km82 to the first camp site and had dinner which was great. Slept in a tent for the first time in my life – it was quite comfortable in fact.

Day 2
The toughest!
Started walking at 0730 and took four hours to climb from 3000m altitude to 4200m at dead woman’s pass. The porters are only allowed to carry 25kgs and I weighed mine at the checkpoint. Only 6kgs. Excellent. These porters are tough guys and of course they're well used to the altitude. No need for fancy hiking boots like the tourists either. Old sandals are good enough for these lads. When you're puffing and panting on the steps (a lot of the walk is on stone steps) it's a little depressing to see one of these guys jogging past with a gas pot on his back, so they can set up the tents at the next camp site before we get there. I tried chewing coca leaves with the "catalyst" a kind of ash made from the quinoa plant. It was horrible so I spat that out after a few minutes and took my chances with the altitude, which was making things difficult. One of the Yankee girls was having problems so they lagged behind at their own pace. The rest of matched OK and it took us about four hours to reach Dead Woman's Pass. After lunch we walked another two hours or so to the camp-site which was at around 3600m. Again a great dinner, the best food I've had for ages and my stomach seems to be sorted after some digestion problems.

Day 3
Again I had a great sleep. We started at 0700 after being woken by the porters with a great cup of coca mate. We walked uphill for about two hours on yet more stone steps. Those Incas must have had a lot of time on their hands. Or a dispensable labour force. The walk is longer than yesterday but less intense. The downhill walk on the steps was quite dangerous, and it's not the best place to sprain an ankle. This camp-site is a bit disappointing. W
ith a restaurant and bar, it's too commercialised for my liking.

Day 4
We started at 0400 and it was pouring rain so I was glad I brought the rain gear. The rain only lasted for an hour or so. You can tell the altitude is lower, there's more lush vegetation and more insects. The repellent is working well though. After about two hours we reached the mirador (viewpoint). It's a big disappointment though. Clouds. Nothing but clouds. We waited for a while before our (dreadful) guide Gloria decided there's no point waiting and we should just press on. When we reached the city it was clouded in fog. However, the sun gradually cleared and little by little the city revealed itself. After a good look around, we split from Gloria and all agreed that she was a useless guide. We climbed Huyna Picchu, a famous nearby peak. It's incredibly steep, with the usual stone steps. At times we were on our hands and knees. It was tough after a few days walking, but the view was well worth it. On the way down we took a detour to see the Templo de la Luna. Not one of the Inca's better efforts this one!
We returned to the ruins for a well-earned break, and by this time the Yankee day trippers were out in force. They come on the train from Cuzco and a lot of the younger ones just sit around under trees. We could see people climbing Huyna Picchu from there and one of them said,

"What's the point of climbing all those steps? it's just a cliff". It's a different kind of tourism altogether. They must be gutted with the lack of a McDonalds here. After an hours rest it was time to head on to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes. It's about €4.50 for the bus, but having walked all the way from km82, we decided to keep walking. We had a good lunch in Aguas Calientes, before a torturous four hour train trip back to Cuzco.
The trail and Macchu Picchu lived up to expectations, and was probably the highlight of this trip so far.

12 June 2002, Day 67
After a few days dossing in Cuzco, I bought a ticked to return to La Paz. A Canadian girl I'd met on the Inca trail told me that some protests were planned which would involve blocking the roads. I checked with the girl at the hotel but she said there was no problem. Later she says "mmm…problemo…no bus". So I ended up going to Arequipa as I'd been in Cuzco long enough and the Canadian girl had told me that it was the only place I could go before the protests started. Which was great information, apart from the fact that Arequipa turned out to be the centre of the protests. On the overnight bus they played bingo. The long winter bus trips must just fly.

13 June 2002
I spent most of the day watching the protests. A lot of marching, chanting and burning tyres. The protests are against the government's plans to privatise the utilities. There's a lot of riot police and ambulances around, but so far it's peaceful. Tomorrow I will go for an overnight trip to see the Colca Canyon, apparently the world's deepest.

protests in Arequipa

17 June 2002
Went out to the Colca Canyon for two days. The canyon was nothing special but the surrounding scenery was well worth the trip. The village where we stayed claims to have the highest Irish bar in the world. At least the highest bar with a shamrock in the window. We came back to Arequipa on Saturday night to find the protests had turned into full scale riots. We drove through the blockades but some stones were thrown at the bus so we jumped out and walked, which they said would be safer. It took an hour and a half or so to reach the hostel. I got chatting to a very friendly local woman who was bringing her baby to the hospital at the other side of town. The streets were littered with broken glass, rocks and bricks, and as we got closer to the centre there was still tear gas in the air. For the next few days it wasn't safe to go out during the day, so I spent the time playing cards and watching the World Cup. There are a lot of different stories flying around about what times the buses are leaving, if indeed they are leaving at all. A 10pm curfew has been imposed, and I heard that one guy was killed. By the time I leave I'll have lost a week so I've decided to take a bus south and go back to Argentina. Tomorrow a few of us are going to get up early while the rioters are still hungover and see if we can make a break for the border. We sneaked out for dinner, it was pretty quiet but now it's getting rowdy and I can hear the mob passing by, rattling pots and pans, as they do here.

the colca canyon

21 June 2002
I'm in Argentina now having finally escaped from Arequipa. A few of us left the hostel at 0500 and walked about half way to the bus station before we found a taxi as we got further out of the centre. We waited for ages outside and were finally allowed in, only to find out that there were no buses for Tacna. Then there was. Then there wasn't. Finally there was. A Basque guy from the hostel was also heading the same direction. We left around 1000 and arrived at 1600. The protests were also going on in Tacna, so we had to walk from the edge of town again. A bunch of young shit-heads were threw a few stones at us for some reason but nothing too serious. On the way out of Peru there was still a chance to get ripped off one more time. A few guys from the bus company offered tickets for s/25. I knocked them down to s/15. On the bus we asked a girl how much she paid. 

"12 soles". 
Then we asked a local lady. 
"6 soles". 
Shafted again.