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Peru tour - Day 9 Journey to Cusco

August 21st, 2016

Feel much better today, don't feel sick. Just have to wait for the Imodium to wear off so I can get back to my normal routine.

Took a few photos from the 11th floor of the hotel after breakfast then got on the bus at 8am.

Today we have a long drive to Cusco with a couple of short stops along the way. The first stop was in Jolaca. There is an enormous market that runs every day, selling literary everything from shoes to haircuts to dried cow pats! I could have spent all day looking around but we only had 15 minutes. Yet again we were held back by the usual suspects who thought that 15 minutes meant anytime they felt like. We sent out a search party to find them but couldn't so we just had to wait. When they eventually turned up they have nothing but attitude and didn't seem to care. These were the same people that moaned about being late into Puno when it was their constant fannying around that delayed us. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to be nice, but that is what being a considerate human being is all about.

Next stop is Pukara for a comfort break. Then another stop about 30 minute later, at an all you can eat buffet for 25/s. The restaurant has 4 musicians playing panpipes and guitars. I found it a bit annoying. Everywhere you go here they want to play their music at you and all I wanted to do was eat my lunch in peace! Chatting to Richard about humour and language. I could have done with a bit more time for lunch but we were on a schedule so had to go.

We stopped at another town after about another hour. This town was special because of the alien. Yes you heard me! There was a museum all about maze which is basically corn. Here corn comes in many different forms not just yellow cobs but different colours and different shapes. The Incas used maze as a primary food source, eating it as we do but also making jam, sweet drinks and fermenting it to make beer and spirits. Once the museum started to talk about the Incas it started telling us about how they trapanned some people to remove evil spirits and wrapped royal people's heads in order to elongated their skulls. There was one body they found that had an elongated skull but appeared to be too small to be an adult and yet had adult teeth so it must have been an alien! National Geographic has (apparently) investigated the body but can't be sure that it is human. It all sounded a bit silly to me.

We eventually got to Cusco and checked into Hotel Midori. It was quite a nice hotel and the staff seemed very pleasant. Coincidentally, I was in the same room number as the last hotel 108. The others all set off for dinner but Steve and I have got into the habit of having dinner together so we headed down to Plaza De Armas.

We wanted to go to a tapas place Steve knew but it was full so we headed back to the square. The first place we tried was playing panpipe music in the restaurant and I just turned around and said no way. They had ruined my lunch and I couldn't face them ruining dinner too. We eventually went into a place that said they'd give us a free pisco sour with our dinner. It was disappointingly small but by that time we had sat down and were pretty hungry so stayed. It was a bit more expensive that we thought it'd be but it was getting late so we just laughed it off. I had pork chops and it was very tasty although the French fries were a bit rubbish. For a country that has 3000 varieties of potato I still haven't had any decent chips yet! It was a another plesent evening.

Afterwards we tried to find a bar for a night cap. There were a couple of salsa bars which offered a free drink but they were dead so we headed for a normal bar. I enjoyed it, they had some 6-8% Belgium-like beers and IPAs which seemed to make things better. Steve had water because he was still feeling a bit rough.

I had posted my blog and got a Facebook message from Serge so we tried to meet up before he left for his 5 day cycle ride to Machu Pichu but our timings were off and so we never got it together.

By this point it was late and time for bed.

Peru tour - Day 8 Visiting the Uros Island people on lake Titikaka

August 20th, 2016

Woke up several times during the night for visits to the loo. The night was wrestless. Had a lovely hot shower then went to breakfast, didn't seem to have my usual appetite though. It was a 7.30 meet in reception so popped back to the room to pick up my stuff. Had a bit of an accident so had to have another shower and change my undies! Wasn't going to let it ruin my day so popped a few Imodium and headed out the door.

We all got on the bus except for Steve who was feeling a bit under the weather too. 10 minutes drive and we were at the harbour which was hustling and bustling with tourists all wanting trips to the floating islands. There was an acrid smell of diesel and plumes of bluish smoke surrounding the boats.

Our guide, Felix, introduced the crew. The captain was called Haraldo and Carlso was his 10 year old helper. Both Haraldo and Carlos were wearing the traditional dress of the Uros people: black trousers, white shirt, a half length black waistcoat and a hat. These are an old people but the Spanish invaders effected their culture and dress so I can see a madador influence in their uniforms.

Our private boat had 20 seats indoors, a bench-like arrangement outside at the back of the boat and an area on the roof for another 8 so there was plenty of space to move around and a toilet which I was hoping I wouldn't be seeing much of!

As the boat left Puno and sailed out we passed through a toll. The toll helps to fund the community, providing a school and medical facilities. Within quarter of an hour we could see the floating islands.

It was not what I imagined at all. Each island was made of water grass. The first island we disembarked on was set up for a demonstration of how the islands are made. The roots of the water grass clumped together to make a buoyant block about half a meter square cubed. These were lashed together then the grass was layered on top. The layers were built up pushing the roots down and stablising the platform. Some of the newer islands were very springy under foot and we could see people falling over from time to time. The older islands felt a lot more solid and stable.

The soft base of the grass is used as a food source by the people and the upper part is used as a building material or is sold on the mainland as animal feed. Before the tourists came, selling the grass to farmers was their only income. Now with the tourist come they make crocheted designed material depicting the history of their people. These are rounded and cartooned in nature. Simplistic but still very ornate. I didn't have time to get more cash before setting off so Toni lent me 100/s to get one. This will be the centre piece of one of the rooms in my house in the same way that the Tenka from Nepal helped me design my bedroom.

The money raised from selling these items along with other handmade jewellery goes to support the actual people on the island. There are about 85 islands in total and due to their floating property they are not fixed and can move around. The islanders take it in turns to be the islands closest to the mainland in order to share the money raised from tourism.

We took a water taxi from the first island to the next. These boats are nicknamed by the Uros people as Mercedes Boats because they are slightly bigger than their standard boat design and have an extra structure in the centre to carry more people (tourists). It looked a bit like the saddle you'd see on top of an elephant only double deckered. Our drivers were a really old man and a small girl probably only 10 or 12. They were dressed in traditional clothes. The girl was really pretty but terribly grubby. Both of them had skin that had been darken by the sun.

It occurred to me that I was supporting child labour but all the money being raised was going into the community to provide education and better health care and over time some of then were leaving the islands to find a better life for themselves on land.

They are a separate people to the Peruvian people with a separate language that dates back to before Christ and so on one of the islands they were stamping passports. I unfortunately didn't have mine with me so picked up a stamped paper which I'll glue in when I get back.

I could write lots more about the islands and the people but you really need to come here and see it for yourself.

We piled back on the boat with all our trinkets and set off across Lake Titicaca, the highest lake on the planet at 3810 meters. The lake forms the border between Peru and Bolivia. The Peruvians say they own 60% of the lake and the Bolivians own 40%. However, if you ask a Bolivian they will say the opposite!

2 hours on the boats took us to Taquile, a small (proper) island with a population of 2000. We walked across the beach and on to the coastal path. Each year the inhabitants club together money, swear and tears and improve the island in some way. The coastal path is a work in progress and covers about half the circumference of the island. I found it heavy going as I'm still feeling quite sick.

A couple of the others have had tummy troubles and we think it was from eating at the stall yesterday.

When we got to the top of the island there was a restaurant which is owned and shared by the 8 communities living on the island. As we went into the garden the local women shuk our hands and greeted us. A long table was set up at the back of the house. One side had chairs and the other side had one long seat built into the gatden's wall which overlooked the bay. While the people in the chairs could look at the view, the people sitting on the wall could see a group of the local women making clothing by hand using traditional methods.

Lunch was gifted to us by Steve as we had been late arriving in Puno last night. It was nobody's fault we were late so it was nice of him.

Lunch consisted of vegetable soup, with a load of vegetables I didn't recognize, trout with rice and veg followed by pancakes and jam. The trout was delicious, it was fried and had something on top which gave it a sweet flavour and crisp texture.

After lunch we were invited to buy some of the garments made by the local women. They were reasonably priced but I didn't have enough and I didn't want to increase my debt to the group.

We have nicknamed Flojee "Fag Ash Lil" because she spend all her free time smoking. Several members of the group noticed and commented on the fact that she was walking up and down the line of clothing on the floor flicking ash all over then. We noticed that the Peruvian women who were selling the clothes were, shall we say, less than impressed. When Fag Ash Lil had finished, she just flicked her butt on the floor. There was no litter anywhere, but somehow she throught this was acceptable behaviour.

The guide said they sell there wears in the market in Puno for the same price so I thought I'd try there after going to the ATM.

We wanted to get back before dark and so we set off down the path. The boat we had arrived on had already circled around the island so it was a steep but short climb down.

I noticed that we had picked up another passenger for our return and asked the guide who he was. "He's the cook", replied the guide. He was on his way to the market to buy supplies for the island. Today is market day in Puno so he can get stuff cheaply and return to the island tomorrow with enough for the week. I got the impression that the people of the island use the tourist boats as a kind of free taxi service, which is fair enough when you think about it.

I got back and showered. I wanted to hang out with Steve again because last night was so easy and fun but didn't want to encroach on his tour duties. Just then the phone rang and it was Steve asking if I had a plan for the evening. I didn't so we decided to repeat last night.

We had a bit of a wandered around town and he showed me some of the other hotels he had been looking at for next year's Peru tour. A few of the group had complained that they couldn't sleep because they could hear the music from local nightclubs.

One of the hotels was really nice, it had a modern interior with a trendy well decorated restaurant joining it. This hotel was the cheapest of the 3 so if you're in Peru next year with Angel Holidays then you have me to thank for the accommodation! We decided to eat in the restaurant. We shared some chicken wings that we really tasty and spicy then I had Spaghetti Bolanase and a beer. Steve was still feeling peeky so just had soup. It was a really pleasant evening.

It was still a bit early for bed so wandered around town and watched what was going on before heading back to the hotel.

Peru tour - Day 7 Condors and journey to Puno

August 18th, 2016

Alarm went off at 5.50. I spent most of the night listening to the stray dogs barking at each other so didn't get a lot of sleep. Felt really tired which doesn't help with shortness of breath caused by the altitude.

Today's main activity is seeing the condors. They like flying in the hot air thermals in the morning between 8 and 10 although it's not guaranteed when they'll turn up.

We drove up to the observation point and luckily we didn't have to wait very long. The condor is related to the vulcha family and the adults have a wingspan of about 3 meters. It was a wonderful experience watching them sawing overhead. Their main home is in Colca Canyon which supports about 50 of them. The views of the canyon were spectacular. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon in America where the mountains had a blue misty tint because the were so far away.

We watch them flying around for about at hour but I could have stayed longer. On the way back we stopped in Shivya again for lunch but this time we eat street food in the market. I had Papa Araine which was a shell made of potato filled with mince meat, vegetables and olives with a bit of salad. It was really tasty and not bad for 3/s (80p). Topped it up with a chocolate bar I didn't recognize which turned out to be nutty!

It was time to leave the area and make our 5 hour journey to Puno.

We passed an enormous legume with flamingos and stopped for a photo opportunity. The landscape was breathtaking.

It was a long journey so Steve had "prepared" one of his legendary quizzes to help pass the time. The prizes this time were 2 pens with larmas on top so the pressure was on. This quiz was even more bizarre than the last.

The questions are ambiguous at best and the answers are open to interpretation. A nice example of this is "how many planes are in the air at rush hour?" A) more than 4000, b) more than 8000 or c) more than 10000. "A" will always be right because they are all more than 4000! All the questions were pot luck and it was a bit of a crapshoot who won.

Along the way, we were delayed by a petroleum lorry that had come off the road and turned upside down. The police were there waving traffic through and a lots of people were there scooping up the petrol into buckets. I could smell the petrol in the air and nobody seemed overly concerned with the highly flammable nature of the substance. If that had been in England there would have been fire retardant form everywhere with a corden. This was the only road so that just wasn't possible here.

As we approached Puno it was dark. There was a really slow lorry that several cars, lorries and vans were trying to overtake. In Peru they have a relaxed attitude to overtaking. You come up behind someone beep your horn, flash your lights and overtake. The car being overtaken stays at the same speed or slows a little to let them pass. If there is any oncoming traffic, which there usual is, they slow down. This happens all the time because all the traffic travels at different speeds.

This is much better than England where most traffic will speed up while you try to overtake and the oncoming traffic will speed up flash their lights and shout abuse at you. So the traffic here seems to move quite fluidly.

The hotel was a bit characterless as it was like a proper hotel. 9 floors of rooms and a bar at the top. It was the most like a regular western hotel we've stayed in so far. The upside was that when I put the hot shower tap on, it stayed hot and didn't run out after a minute. Ooh bliss!

It was a free night tonight. It just so happen that Steve had the room next door to mine so we decided to go for dinner together. We found a nice restaurant a couple of streets down. I get along with Steve best out of the group and the more I get to know him the funnier I think he is, this man has done all the jobs there are and is full of stories and anecdotes. We had a couple of beers and chatted about the tour.

During the conversation Pelar's name came up and Steve said she really enjoyed meeting the group. I was excepting Steve to come out with some sarcy comment about my swan gift to Pelar but he said that she really liked it and has put it in her room with her other keepsakes as a reminder of a really nice evening.

It was probably the nicest evening I've had so far. We called it a night when we were about half way through our second beer as we were both feeling quite drunk!

Got back to the hotel and realized I'd left my camera charger at the planetarium hotel. My camera had a full charge but I knew that would only last a day or two. I really wanted the camera for Machu Picchu at the end of the week. I was kicking myself.

Peru tour - Day 6 Hot spa and planetarium

August 17th, 2016

Left really early today as we had a long drive ahead of us. We had a few stops along the way. One was to look at a hurd of wild alpacas and larmas. The women in the group were oohing and arring but all I could think of was steaks!

The next stop took us to the highest point of the trip, 4910 meters. I could really feel the altitude here: now I know what asthmatics feel like. There was an observation point where I could see most of the main volcanos in the region. Scattered all around were small kerns. Most of them were 3 or 4 stones piled on top of each other. These were built by the local shepherds as good luck charms to give them safe passage over this particularly inhospitable terrain. I had seen 1 or 2 of these structures while on the cycle tour but here there were thousands of them.

A few miles down the road we stopped again at a transport cafe at the intersection of 2 main roads. We took the opportunity to have a coca tea, some nibbles and a comfort break. This whole area was a geologist wet dream, with unusual overhanging rock formations.

After about an hour we stopped again at a watering hole where alpacas and larmas were drinking. There was a woman in traditional dress selling clothing made from alpaca and larma wool. I bought a baby alpaca Peruvian hat and scarf. I'm not sure if they suit me but they are really warm so I don't care!

Now came the highlight of the tour for me: Steve's quiz. A strange mix of questions about the Beatles, Peru and what ever Steve was musing on the last time he was on the toilet. This time was a bit unusual because most of the questions seemed to have a proper answer. Richard was the resident quiz fanatic and he won by a landslide netting himself and Belinda (who was along for the ride) an alpaca hat each.

The increased altitude had not been good to my pen. When I took the top off it exploded red ink all over my hands, shorts and jumper. It looked like I had been stabbed!

Almost at our hotel we stopped in Shivya for lunch. I sat with Steve and the guide and listened to them planning the next leg of the journey while enjoying an all you can eat buffet. A couple of plates of Peruvian food with desserts came to 30/s (about 6).

It wasn't much further to the hotel. Which was a particular arrangement run by 2 French chaps with about 6 Peruvian people working for them. This hotel was also strange because it had a planetarium and telescope.

To stay in the region you had to apply beforehand and pay a special tax which went to restoring the pre-inca civilisation sites that were dotted around.

After checking in we went to one of these sites to look at the ruins. A lot of care had been taken to restore the area and although it was still a work in progress you could see that they were spending the money wisely. The most interesting part was a water system that came from springs in the mountains at the top and was directed down to water terraced fields.

At the base of the ruins were a set of hot spas. The water flowed from an underground spring which was super heated by the volcano above. The water was too hot for one pool so was directed and mixed to form 5 pools for people to sit in. It was easily the same temperature as I would do for a hot bath. I has forgotten my trunks so I just used my undies! The others in the group had started to realise that I'm not backwards about coming forwards and just chalked this up to another of my eccentricities along with the odd socks.

It was started to get dark so we paid our 15/s and made our way back to the van. The guide helped us with torches because it was getting to the point that the moon was the only light source.

After showering back at the hotel we put in our order for dinner and went to watch the planetarium show. It obviously wasn't as good as the Griffith Observatory show I saw in LA last month but given the facilities they did a pretty good job. After the show we went outside where one of the French chaps pointed out the constellations with a green laser pen. The night was so clear that the pen really did look like it was touching the stars. I'd never seen this before so I'm definitely going to try it when I get home! It was getting a quite cold so we headed for the observatory. We looked at the Moon, Mars, Saturn, it's rings and we could also see 4 of it's orbiting moons. Toni was blown away, I don't think she'd looked down a telescope before. She asked him how he knew so much about the stars and he surprised us all by saying Wikipedia.

As we were winding up, the other French man came in to say our dinner was ready so we all headed inside. I had a glass of wine and lamb, mostly because I had seen some sheep at the ruins earlier in the day!

It had been an early morning and I was feeling quite tired so headed to bed. While writing my journal I heard a dog barking and thought "oh no" as my worse fears were realised. The dog carried on for about 20 minutes before all his stray doggy mates joined in. This went on most of the night so I didn't get much sleep.

Peru tour - Day 5 Cycling down the volcano

August 16th, 2016

It was an early start today because we were being picked up from the hotel at 8am by the cycle tour company. I had the usual 2 cups of coca tea along with scrambled egg sandwich, mango juice and coffee. I packed a bag of things and headed outside to find the van.

Our driver was called Aldo and he explained that we would be driving for 2 hours to get to the start point. Along the way he pointed out the half way point, the points on the journey where we would have to make a turn and the little village that we would finish at. He said if we wanted to make a toilet stop, or photo stop or anything, we just had to say "Aldo stop" and he would stop. He drove a 4x4 with the 8 of us in the back and played Pink Floyd (and a selection of other western albums) on the CD player.

When we arrived at the 4200 meter start point we all got out of the truck. He pointed to a pile of rocks and said behind there is the girls toilet and the rest of the mountain top is for the boys!

We geared up with helmets and cycling gloves and set off down the volcano on the road we had come up. I had a backpack full of water, extra clothes and my lunch for later.

I had thought they would dump us at the top and see us at the bottom which is why my bag was full of stuff. This turned out not to be the case at all. There were 2 support vehicles, one stayed at the back all the time and the other moved up and down the cyclists. Everyone cycled at a different speeds and the support vehicles were never crowding us, but they would drive past frequently to make sure we were ok.

I coped pretty well with the elevation. Can't tell if I'm getting used to the altitude or whether all the coca tea and sweets I'm eating are working. I don't want to stop taking the coca products just in case!

The view down the mountain was impressive but like the first day of skiing I was concentrating on the finding a smooth path over the very bumpy and uneven road surface rather than enjoying the view. Perhaps road surface is a bit of a generous description. Most of it was a bashed down sand. Think skiing piste but for sand.

The road zig zagged down the volcano so there were lots of sharp turns. Toni and I ended up at the back of the pack because we were taking the turns nice and slowly. Many of the turns were quite deep sand but the bikes could handle it so I didn't have to put my foot down. On one occasion I couldn't make the turns quick enough and my arm brushed against a Hawthorne bush so I have 6 bloody scratches which still sting even now.

As I approached the bottom, my confidence had increased and I was taking the corners like a pro, the road conditions were better as it got closer to the end point town which helped. One of the roads even had some tarmac, although only for about 500 meters. While whizzing along the road a dog shot out of some bushes and chased me barking like mad and trying to bit my feet. It was a quite frightening. Speaking to the others later, they also mentioned meeting the dog. The local owner called it away from me, so it probably wasn't rabbid!

All in all it took about 2 hours to get to the end town where I had my sandwiches and chatted to a Dutchman in our cycle group. He was from Utrecht and was backpacking around Peru on his own. I spoke about our group and sang praises about Steve's Nepal trip (hello if you are reading!).

Aldo loaded the bikes onto the roof and off we set back to Arequipa. The weather was still sunny and warm as we drove back through the shatti towns on the outskirts of the city. It was really fascinating to see life going on and kids in tracksuits going to school.

We noticed that all the shops were grouped together. We passed 10 mattress shops next to each other, then 10 kitchen appliance shops next to each other. In England it pays to be the only shop of a particular type in a location to reduce competition and drive up prices. The opposite seemed to be the case here. We guessed that if everyone knows where to buy mattresses you'd be able to get a better deal and if you built a mattress shops on it's own you wouldn't get any customers because everyone would go to the mattress shop district to get a better deal. Not sure which is a better way but I do know which makes more money!

I was wearing my "Trust me I'm a Programmer" t-shirt and Aldo said he liked programming. He started to tell me the programmers joke about going to the market and getting 6 pints of milk and some oranges or apples, but I stopped him because I'd heard it before. In retrospect I should have left him finish to see if there were any cultural differences in the joke.

We were all caked in volcanic sand when we got back so straight into the shower. I hadn't noticed at the time but my t-shirt had ridden up and exposed my lower back to the sun which I hadn't put any sun cream on. I now have a nice red line across my bum!

Val, Richard & I decided that we enjoyed the fruit smoothie we had at the market on the previous day so much that we'd go back for another. We spent about an hour being lost but it didn't matter because Val wanted to try some different enchiladas so each time we bought one we asked for directions. None of us spoke any Spanish but we eventually spotted something we recognized and found our way there!

I had melon and leche milk which was a bit of an experiment as I'd never had it before. I wouldn't get it again give a choice. It was funny because when I handed my empty glass back she refilled it with what was left in the blender and gave it back to me. I smiled, thanked her and drank it like a good boy!

An American girl came and sat with us and we swapped stories of good stuff to see.

We thought we'd been so healthy so we went for a beer in the roof top bar. A couple of the others from our group had had the same idea so we had a little reunion!

Headed back to the hotel to change for dinner but there was no hot water so I just got dressed. We went out as a big group and ended up in a nicer restaurant than yesterday but it was the same chain so the menu was exactly the same. I didn't mind because I wanted to have pizza which I didn't want to have last time.

While waiting for the food I dispensed advice on cameras and phones to the group. I am the youngest and once they found out I was in IT it was like dealing with my parents all over again - I'm supposed to be on holiday!! Not that I mind.

I tried to upload my blog when I got back to the hotel but their internet connection was unusable and the local 3g was too slow.

Completely knackered I was in bed by 2230.