11th - 15th April (Into Peru)
Before leaving Santiago, I did manage to contact a couple of my old friends from Sammies, Sarah and Catie who I met up with for a couple of very strange cocktails (on Sarahs recomendation) and a good chat about all kinds of rubbish. I would have been happy to stay out all night but managed to get myself in bed for midnight. At 3.15, having just uncovered my ears to deaden the sex noises of the couple across the room (after staying in so many dorm rooms it's surprising that it hasn't happened before really!) the alarm went off, I dressed and gathered my things in the dark. Olivia, a cute little English girl was on the same shuttle bus, after checking in we went for a bite to eat where we met Rosie; another cute English girl who Olivia had met previously. Things were looking up! Olivia was going to Cusco, Rosie and I were both going to Lima but on different flights so I arranged to meet Rosie at the Lima airport where I held up a board with her name on. We crammed onto the tiny bus on route S to Miraflores with our huge rucksacks on our laps and looked frantically between the 'footprint' road map and the passing street names, none of which tallied up! Eventually we got off and found Nomade hostel that I had booked online which had plenty of room for Rosie as well. We checked in and went for a lovely lunch in a quiet but frienly restaurant. Many places to lunch menus which are either set or have limited choice and are incredibly cheap, if on a tight budget it is worthwhile eating your main meal at lunch time and a snack from the supermarket later. Our three course meal came to 15 soles each (6 soles = 1 pound). We walked through the streets of Miraflores (a well to do suberb of Lima) and along the sea front for the rest of the afternoon, got some food from the supermarket and Rosie cooked it at the hostel. Everything was perfect apart from having to settle for cheap boxed wine as the price of wine here is about the same as in England which comes as a terrible shock after Argentina. We ate, drank and watched 'The Departed' with Matt Damon and Leo di Capreo which was pretty good.
Our plan to hire bikes the next day didn't work out so we ended up walking again, this time with a young American called Max in tow, we stopped at the same place for lunch and looked around lots of local craft markets where I started to realise just how hard it was going to be to find suitable gifts. We went an an hour long open top bus tour where I nearly froze to death, didn't understand a word of the Spanish commentary and saw very little of any interest whatsoever. Back at the hostel we ate, drank and watched 'Notes from a scandal', also pretty good.
The next day Rosie and I took a taxi to central Lima, walked around and took a Spanish guided minibus tour up Cerro San Christobal. The bus did about 10 laps around the block in Lima before setting off up the hill in order to fill the bus, taking about 40 minutes. The most interesting views were of the slum huts built into the side of the hill.
At midday we caught a glimpse of the changing of the guard, with as much pomp and ceremony as back home. We went to a restaurant run by nuns who confused me by speaking French where I had some lovely trout and then we walked around the shops until Rosie went to her Lima hotel to meet the group she would be touring with for the next seven weeks and I went back to Miraflores where I bought a big 45Soles jumper for the Inca trail, a 13S burger king and watched 'Team America' (f#ck yeah!). Lima was much nicer than I expected, very busy and noisy but some very nice buildings and a lot to see. Miraflores is also very nice but it was about time to go.
I spent the morning killing time, then when I got to Lima airport realised that I had left my photo cd in the hostal computer. I found the Peru national footy shirts that Christophe had requested, ate a McChicken sandwich and hopped on the plane. Cusco is amazing, the plaza de aramas is the most perfect cetral square I have ever seen, especially at night when it and the hillside behind it is a mass of lights. The fountain, the huge cathedral del Cusco and the church all glow in just the right amount of light, the women with babies strapped to their backs and long braided hair beneath their traditional hats try to sell all kinds of stuff but stop short of harrassment as the tourist police are keeping a close vigil. The streets leading off of the plaza are narrow, cobbled and full of character until eventually you get to normal scummy streets with scummy cars and scummy buildings. Straight away I noticed the difference in altitude; just walking along a level street had me breathing out of my arse. Apparently I should have allowed a couple of days to acclimatise in Cusco before hitting the trail, too late I'm booked in for tomorrow. Apart from sorting out a few neccesary items for the trek (including altitude sickness pills), I haggled down a metre long street scene and a small portrait of a local child to 105S, ate some pasta and sampled the local brew 'Cusquena' which is pretty good. I slept like a man with a Llama on his chest - badly.