Saturday, 31 January 2009


We are not sure how the Incas managed to worship the sun when the sun never seems to shine in Macchu Pichu, well at least not in Jan/Feb (the rainy season).
Our guide had given us a wake-up call at 430 am in order, he assured us, to beat the crowds... only to find out that the crowds had got up even earlier and beaten us!
On arrival at the mighty Inca city, the famous Waynapichu mountain that normally looms over the site was completely obscured by cloud and rain and the views were, to say the least, crap....which didn't turn out to be such a bad thing after all, as a few minutes later the clouds cleared slightly, leaving the mountains surrounding the city mystically shrouded in mist. It was an awesome, magical sight.
After a rather rapid tour of the city by our guide, macho Manuel (who we later worked out had kept it brief on account of his hangover) we decided to have an early second breakfast (of hamburgers!) to gain the energy we needed to climb Waynapichu. The mountain was actually much harder to climb than we had thought... but when we finally got the the top, the time, effort and sweat was finally worth it with breathtaking views of the city and the valley it lay in.
And you know what? The sun did manage to burn us to a crisp. Maybe those pesky Incas had a point...

G.A.P Adventures

We all now know why our chosen tour operator is called G.A.P… there are many gaps in the adventures!!

When Ed and I had blithely booked our trip, we were both aware when that we would be hitting the Andes in the throws of the rainy season. On getting to here, it dawned on us that we should maybe have taken this more into account! It turns out that in opting out of chasing the other tour groups up the Inca Trail, we had opted for the higher, wetter, more challenging, but possibly more beautiful Lares Trek (albeit aided by 1 machismo Peruvian guide, 1 bucktooth chef, 7 porters, 5 mules and 4 llama).

Our little band of six (plus entourage) set off mid day Tuesday after Ed had soaked himself in the thermal baths of the local town. (As it was already pissing with rain Vanessa and I opted for the warmer option of sitting in the shelter.) A challenging 3 hour climb / wander, adjusting to the increased altitude and learning to suck on coca leaves (rumoured to reduce altitude sickness, jury is still out on this). Reaching camp on the first night was a joy, sadly the “bathroom” option didn’t warrant the same reaction.

After waking up in a puddle we packed up and set off (in the rain) with our Ponchos on. After 3 hours of rain, fog, mist, mud, wind, avoiding a lot of pooooops we finally made it to the Lares pass. The sun broke, spirits lifted and it was literally downhill from here.

While enjoying the sensational views I managed to slip…on either mud or poop and took a healthy chunk out of my knee. Thank goodness for the army trained Finnish “team members” as Macho Manuel had clearly never taken a first aid course…I was unaware the washing up soap was good for cleaning open wounds. (ended up in the local rural health clinic the next day, an interesting experience in it’s own right, but one for another day).

We all learnt that none of us will be attempting Everest anytime soon, but without a doubt enjoyed our trek. We were left moved by the number of local children who ran along beside us (really just wanting candy and food), overwhelmed by the magical mountains and great expanse (at times very similar to the Scottish Highlands) and in addition did our best to put the “adventure” back in G.A.P.

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

We’re not going to bore you with a commentary of our tour of the Cusco and the Sacred Valley, so here are some images, so that you get the picture.
However, what I will say before leaving you to browse is that those Incas really could build stuff! God knows how they hauled, carved and polished massive stones and set them in place (without mortar) so tightly that you can’t even slip a sheet of paper between them. The colonial Spanish constructions on top of them look like the work of clownish amateurs, despite their intricate carvings. You can’t help but think what the place would have been like if the Spanish conquistadores hadn’t been so greedy and so wily, and the missionaries who followed them so convinced they were ‘saving’ the natives.

Cusco: the world’s gayest city?

I (Ed) just wasn’t expecting it. We come through arrivals and one of the first things we see is a big rainbow flag fluttering in the thin air of 3700m beside the Peruvian tricolour (well, if a red, white and red flag counts as a tricolour). Hmm, I think. I knew that Cusco was the also known as the “gringo” capital of Peru, on account of its attractiveness to foreigners, but I never imagined it to be a bastion of liberalism.
Then we are driven into town by a driver from the hotel, and we then see it again: another rainbow flag, this time even bigger. The driver tells us he is going to take us round the Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s extensive main square, flanked by not just one, but two, churches, and what do we see? You guessed it: an even prouder rainbow flag. Hang on a second, I think, either this place is even gay friendly than San Francisco, or something else is going on. So I ask the driver what the flag means, and he looks at me like I must be stupid, or even bigoted.
Don’t you know, he says?
Are there a lot of gay people in Cusco?
He seems to draw a blank.
I try again. Are there many homosexual people in Cusco?
He blinks, embarrassed for me. I understood you the first time, he says. It’s the flag of the Incas, he continues, mildly offended.
Of course it is! I read it in my guidebook, I say sheepishly.
The driver then looks at me… and winks.

Friday, 23 January 2009


It is safe to say we were all pleased to see the back of Lima (bar the ceviche, of course) and its intolerable pollution. Or so we thought…
Soon after arriving in marvellous Cusco, the bellybutton of the world (more about which in another posting), we thought we would hit the river for a day of rafting to experience nature at its purest and most untainted.
(At this point, we must thank Ned, who paid for our excursion with his pocket change from his 2 years in London.)
On paper, the rafting was all that could be wished for: class 4.5 rapids (for those rafters out there) on a “holy” river – the Vilcanota – so named because which feeds the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Vanessa managed to fall in during one of the most turbulent sections (which we took to be a Inca baptism of sorts), and Ed and Lu managed to swallow a gulpful - or two – of the murky brown water.
However, from the rumbling in our tummies, not all augurs well; we are expecting a case of the “holy” squits any moment now…


I fear I (Lu) must first apologise to anyone I have strong armed into sitting on the open top bus tour around London…however, I can safely say that it is 100,000 times better than it´s equal around Miraflores and Barranco districts of Lima, Peru!!
In hindsight, it was also a bit of a cop out on our first day of traveling to opt for the easiest form of tourism - lesson learned - but in our defence we did have an hour to kill before meeting up with a local Peruvian friend of Ned´s.
If one was to put a colorful spin on the tour I would tell you that we saw architecture to rival the Taj Mahal, streetscapes that put Paris to shame and gardens that would make any botanical garden green with envy (if they can get any greener, that is)
In reality the best I can do is direct you to the pictures below... the majority of the hour was spent minding the street wires to avoid decapitation!
Highlight: the “underpass”


You heard it first here: Peruvian food is going to be the next cuisine to sweep the world. OK, so maybe I exaggerate, but the food in Peru is truly delicious. And its not just because they have 3000 types of potato (we are steadily working throught them – so much for a carb free diet), countless types of chili (the smaller, the more lethal), or corn that comes in a myriad of colours (the yellow corn we normally eat is pretty much llama feed for Peruvians). No, the reason its so delectable is that it is the orginal fusión food of the type you get in California – it is a mix of the various peoples that have ever set foot in the place: Incas, Spaniards and the Italians, Chinese and Japanese that came here in waves during the 19th century. Except that in places like San Francisco CA, they try way too hard to expose your palette to novel combination of flavours (chocolate marinated salmon on a bed beetroot and pineapple corn grits, anyone? No?) Whereas in Peru they have had centuries to work out what goes togther and what really doesn´t, with the result that you get marvels like ceviche (raw fish steeped in lime, onions and chili) – trust me, it´s the new sushi. However, its not all gastronomic heaven - unless guinea pig is your thing (I´ll let you know). Or chicha (fermented corn juice)... actually, it might take a little longer than we predict for Peruvian food to conquer the world.

Monday, 19 January 2009


Like him or loathe him, you got to hand it to Che Guevara - he left a cosy existance as a middle class student of medicine in Buenos Aires to go on an adventure through South America with his buddy, and rather than returning home, he started a socialist revolution and thereby became the poster boy of Marxist revolutionaries and disaffected youth the world over.I also have undertaken to journey through South America. Does the same fate await me? Or Lucinda? Or Vanessa? The parallels are few, the chances are slim, and quite frankly the will is not there. So it´s most unlikely. (Unless Vanessa returns convinced she can change the world through the transformative power of Bikram yoga.)

That said, I am expecting something vaguely interesting will happen to me on my journey South. I am hoping it´s not coincidental that when pepole say they `went on a journey´ they often mean more than that they managed to get from A to B (although I am expecting that merely getting from A to B in places like Bolivia will be somewhat illuminating.)

I think we´re too old and too allergic to cliches to be searching for enlightenment or our true selves, or any other such crap, but I do hope that we will come back a little changed and a little wiser. I am hoping its not too much to ask for this. Indeed, sitting on the cliffs in Lima looking out to the sea as the sun sets, its hard not to think of things a little more profound than where my next beer is coming from. Especially as there a sodding great cross made out of foglights on the promentary at the end of the bay which glows so bright at night it competes with the sun as it sets. Its hard not to be struck by the symbolism of the scene here in Peru: the Inca sun god Inti fighting a losing a nightly battle with an illuminated Cross. One religion being extinguished in the sea and another looking so silly and kitsch its hard to take seriously at that moment in time. You cant help but think what is that makes people want to believe in one thing and not another?

Nothing I or anybody can answer on a blog, but a theme that´s bound to return over the next few weeks. So, be sure to return for a little illumination, and find out where indeed its good to go for beers in Peru.