Another out of date, long lost update from the travelling Markhams (a little like the travelling Wilburys but not as hairy).
We arrived in sunny Lima after a six hour bus ride from Rio to Sao Paolo and a five hour flight from SP. Needless to say all that sitting down doing nothing completely exhausted us and as soon as we got to our hostel (at 1.30am) we crashed. Both Shelly and I had heard from a number of sources that Lima is a city with no redeeming features whatsoever and a place best avoided. Apparently it is noisy, dirty, hot, smelly, smoggy and very dangerous. Okay, it was noisy, smelly and smoggy - the first thing I remember about Lima is its smell; the moment the airliner door opened there was this strange, undefinable smell of.... something. But I put this down to Limas bizarre climate. In Lima it almost never rains but instead a sea fog blankets the city and keeps it moist, but also holds in the smog. The drive from the airport wasn’t too encouraging either as it took us through the slums on the outskirts of the city - never a good look very late at night. We were staying in Miraflores, the newest and most upmarket suburb in Lima, where all the tourists stay. But the fact that our hostel had no signage at all and was surrounded by high walls and razor wire didn’t give us a good feeling of security.
The next day though, being good tourists we set out for the Historico Centro, the heart of the old city and what a revelation. The Lima central square was beautiful, possibly the most beautiful we had seen on our trip. A magnificent old cathedral graced one corner of the square while the others sported equally beautiful colonial buildings. There was no graffiti and no litter. There was a working fountain in the square - not filled with rubbish as most others are. The gardens were clean, manicured and healthy and the park was not filled with homeless and drug addicts. It was stunning. And so it went on. We walked all around the central district admiring gorgeous old buildings and churches (we even went down into the crypt of one of the monasteries, which was filled with the bones of some 70,000 of Limas past residents - creepy, disconcerting and bizarre). By the end of the day we were convinced Lima-philes. It is hard to pinpoint what made Lima and Peru different from the other countries in South America. Perhaps it is because the majority of the population are indigenous; many are the direct descendents of the Incas. They seem to have a real pride in their history (which would become even more apparent in Cuzco).
But one day was enough to see the sights of Lima, and then we flew directly to Cuzco. Cuzco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and there are signs of the Incas everywhere. Most of the colonial buildings are built on Inca foundations and despite the periodic earthquakes that knock down the city, the Inca foundations and walls still remain standing. The Incas were a mountain people and Cuzco is high in the Andes at some 3,400 metres above sea level. That is well above altitude sickness level but fortunately Shelly and I were not affected - then. We were however affected by the cold. At that altitude it is bitterly cold at night, regardless how hot it is during the day. We think it was around 2 degrees C at night. We were not dressed for that kind of cold.
The first day we took a tour of the Inca Sacred Valley. Our tour guide was an Inca nationalist. She announced at the beginning of the tour that Cuzco real name is Q’osqo, and that Peru is not Peru but some other Inca unpronounceable name. She also stressed to us that the Incas did not worship the sun as the Spaniards claimed but worshipped a single creator god, whose symbol was a disc or oval [implying no end and no beginning] and that that god was still being worshipped by the native people under a facade of Catholicism. We saw some spectacular ruins and beautiful mountain scenery that day but of course all this was just a sideshow compared to Macchu Picchu, which we did the following day.
To get to Macchu Picchu it is a four hour train ride along the sacred valley to the village of MP and then a 20 minute bus ride up the vertical side of mountain. Of course, there is another way to get there - you CAN WALK from the village of Ollytantambo. It takes four days; although in Inca times the road from Ollytantambo took 10 hours walking or 2.5 hours running (I can actually hear the people who have done the Inca trail crying at that thought!]. We opted to do the train because -
a) I am unfit, lazy and have asthma and not really up for that kind of torture,
b) we had limited time in Peru, and
c) we are not completely stark raving mad.
Even then, the walk up to Machu Picchu was utterly exhausting (and that was only a 15 minute hike!). To me, it seemed every breath involved pain. But once we were up at the site it was spectacular. Truly spectacular. Words can’t describe how stunning the location of Machu Picchu is. While we were up at the top Shelly got an attack of altitude sickness, almost fainting and had to sit down for about half an hour to recover. It was only a mild attack and she was over it quickly, but it was a sign of things to come. The funny thing is Macchu Picchu is actually 1000 metres lower down than Q’osqo so by all accounts it should have been easier to breath there.
Q’osqo at night was equally spectacular, if cold. The square and the cathedrals were all lit up and we took dozens of photos there. We tried to go out to sample the night life [which by all accounts was good] but the cold and altitude simply drained us of all motivation. Worse, I had picked up a bit of travellers flu when we were in Bariloche, Argentina [probably due to the cold their too]. Now, combined with altitude and cold I came down hard with bronchitis.
Our next destination did not help either. We went to Puno, which is a port on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno is 3800 metres above sea level but to get there you have to go over 4200 metres. I was dying by the time we got to Puno. It was artic cold at dusk and the coldness of the air felt like razors down my throat. The hotel we chose put us on the fourth floor - their prestigious top floor - but they had no elevator. Just walking up those four flights had me gasping and almost ready to cry, let alone carrying our god damned heavy bags up. A porter took Shelly's up and he certainly wasn't happy about it, but he disappeared before I could tip him. In my state I would have been happy to give him $1000. Despite the cold and the difficulty I was having breathing we found our way to a nearby pizzeria [damned sick of Peruvian food by then] and had the most delicious soup and pizza. We both slept easier that night.
Next day we took a trip out to the floating islands. The Uros people of Lake Titicaca live on artificial floating islands built on papyrus reeds. Okay, it is now quite touristy but it is quite amazing and we had a good time there. Later that night, a Canadian girl we met at the bus station commented that all the Uros girls were very short and wide. I hadn't really noticed before but we realised it was largely true. There really isn't much opportunity to do much exercise on a small floating island. You can't run around much and aerobics is out of the question. So the ladies pretty much sit all day long, every day and sew and knit and eat. The men however spend most of their time either fishing or working on shore, so they are not as affected by their environment.
I felt better that day after the sun came out and convinced myself I was on the mend. At 3.30 we were booked on a bus to Arequipa, the White City, but when we got to the bus station there was a strike in Arequipa [Peru was in the middle of elections and there was a lot of political agitation on the streets everywhere we went] so the bus was delayed till 5pm. 5pm came and went, so did 6pm. The bus finally pulled in at 6.30pm. This now meant we would not arrive at Arequipa at 9.30pm as planned but sometime around 1.30am. It was a terrible night as I was still quite unwell and when we arrived at Arequipa, with nowhere to stay booked, and found the bus station dark and deserted Shelly was feeling a little less than happy. But while we were pouring over the Lonely Planet guide trying to decide what to do and where to go, a light came on in the tourist information office and the nightshift girl, who had been sleeping in the office came out to greet us. Isn't that nice! She helped us find accommodation at this lovely little B&B in a converted colonial house. I think it was called La Casa Das Sol [the owner gave me about 10 brochures as we left and told me to tell our friends, and I am. It comes highly recommended]. The poor owner had to get up at 2am to let us in and show us the room. It was like a converted stable, huge 2 foot thick walls, 18 foot high domed ceiling, two double beds [a godsend for Shelly after spending the past few nights with me keeping her awake with my coughing and tossing and turning] and our own brand spanking new bathroom. The owners forewent any formalities and said we'll discuss it all tomorrow. And we crashed.
The next day we had a lovely breakfast at the B&B and then headed into town to make our travel arrangements. We wanted to stay another night in Arequipa because it was so lovely but we had a flight to Mexico to catch the following day. Unless we could secure a first thing in the morning flight we'd be on the overnight bus to Lima that day. Fortunately we did get a flight so we rushed back to the B&B and confirmed the second night. Then we went to the Ice Maiden museum where they have several frozen bodies of Inca children sacrificed to the volcanos that surround Arequippa. That was creepy and fascinating. Then we just cruised around and saw the city and soaked up the ambiance. Arequippa is an excellent place, and at only 1800 metres it is alot less taxing on the body than Q’osqo.
The next day we flew out to Lima at 8.55, which meant a 6am start. Once again our hosts couldn't help but be helpful. They insisted they would come and wake us at 6 and have breakfast ready for us at 6.30, very very early for them. They also arranged a taxi for us. With the flight a new phase of our holiday began, Mexico and Central America. I said goodbye to South America in my own way. On our last day in Q’osqo an ageing southern belle from Saaaaath Carolina came up to me at the Sacsayhuaman ruins and said Shalom. SHALOM, I thought? What? Does she think I am, Jewish or something?? And then I caught a look at myself, dressed in a black shirt [only clean one left!], black jacket [it was god damned cold I tell you], with my black tango hat from Argentina [it was damned sunny out, and I'm a pretentious poser] and a full beard I guess I did bear a resemblance to an Orthodox Jew. Given that that really isn't a look I am trying to go for I decided there and then the beard had to go [and the hat went back into its bag again too. But I've since bought a Mexican cowboy hat so I can still look like a complete dick when I go out in the sun]. So the beard was left in Arequipa, much to Shelly's relief.
This almost brings us up to date. We are now in San Cristobal de Casas in southern Mexico and will be heading on into Guatemala in the next couple of days. Guatemala is real dirt poor, chicken bus country so we might be out of touch for a while, so adios for now amigos.
Lots of love
Shelly and Paulie
Ps. Oh yes, and since being in warm/hot Mexico I have been much better and the bronchitis is almost gone.