Peru – Inkan ruins, mysteries, floating islands

Back to backpacking, I love it! –

It was a good feeling to strap on the back pack again. In my career to date, I’ve spent an accumulative time of over 3 fulls years of short term stays in nice swanky hotels.Whilst extremely convenient, clean and predictable (i.e. perfect for work), staying in hotels can be a bit sterile and impersonal. So it was a welcome change to get back into backpacking. After a few days I remember how much I love it. Meeting so many friendly people, with like minds, mostly about exploration, discovery and sharing experiences. Staying in a dorm, you never know who you are going to be bumping into! I’ve met some incredibly fascinating people I would have never met otherwise. Also, I think there is no better way to get recommendations on what to see and do, then from people who have just done it.

Cuzco and bustling Central Plaza De Armas, so much going on –

One of my favourite things about Latin America Cities is the central plaza – usually a square plaza, in the middle of town, with plenty of shade and sitting places where a lot of local activities take place. In Cuzco I spent a lot of time at the picturesque “Plaza De Armas” which had the Andes as a backdrop, and in the foreground large historic buildings, the more recent Spanish buildings (i.e. churches) build on the old foundations from the Inkas. In a bit over a week (over the Christmas period) I saw a lot happen at this plaza, including: an Earthquake ‘simulation’ and evacuation of surrounding buildings, large military parade, local markets, numerous religious ceremonies, and a simply mad nights of locals and some visitors myself included) letting of firework on Xmas eve.

Obligatory Machu Picchu visit (4 day “jungle trek”), lives up to the hype –

Before heading to what is frequently called the #1 tourist destination in South America, I spent some time absorbing the local Inka sites and learning a bit about their history. There are so many impressive sites in the Cuzco area well worth a visit, numerous old Inkan archeological sites, famous salt mines to name a few..

But the big puppy I came to see was Machu Picchu, I went with a tour group on a 4 day ‘trek’ which included mountain biking, rafting and of course quite a bit of trekking. It was a whole bunch of fun, highlights included getting a lesson in Soccer from the locals at one of the villages we stayed at, learning about and sampling the variety of fruits and food on the hike, and of course the ascent up Machu Picchu. We were amongst the very first people to enter the site which was well worth the effort. I also went up the steep Wayna Picchu (this is the steep hill you see behind Machu Picchu in most postcard pics) which had even better view of the surrounding valley. Wow – once up here you could see why the big fuss. It was one heavily hyped site that didn’t disappoint.

Mysterious and impressive architecture (to me at least) –

I spent a little longer in the Cuzco area then originally planned because I became fascinated with the incredible buildings that were built before the Spanish arrived. These really have to be seen to be believed. I never thought something like this would hold my interest for so long. What am I talking about? It is mostly the brickwork used and how sophisticated it was, and how large the rocks were. Buildings were created from rocks that had been so perfectly formed and adjusted, that when they were fitted together, they fit so perfectly that you couldn’t even put a toothpick in between the rocks (I’m not kidding!). There was no plaster used, and the size of some of the rocks was massive! Furthermore, they had earthquake resistant features such as ‘L’ shaped rocks on the corners of structured, and holes in the top of rocks, where a corresponding shaft from another rock would be inserted. It was incredible. It is though someone was treating these rocks like light play-doh before assembling them. I asked a lot of questions about these to the guides (so many I must have been annoying) but the explanations they give just don’t stack up for me. After a couple of searches online I found some pretty crazy theories out there which also see implausible, so for me this seems just a genuine mystery. In the age of information overload – it was good to find something out there so mysterious still.

Overrated Uros ‘floating City’, and underwhelming experience –

After a stopover at Arequipa (a dusty, dry City surrounded by large volcanoes and canyons) I stayed at Puno to spend a day out on the much hyped floating islands, and then a further trip out to an island on Lake Titicaca – Taquille Island. Maybe I had set my standards to high after the other Peruvian sites, but this was a disappointing day. Classical tourist trap tactics, like dumping you at a site (a small island) which is packed with overpriced souvenir shops, and locals selling supposedly ‘handmade’ items (which are identical to the ones you can get in the City for 10% off the price). Admittedly, the islands made just of straw were impressive, there were approximately 80 of them near each other forming a sort of ‘floating village’. However, I seriously came to question the authenticity of the claim ‘this is how they have lived for centuries’ when I saw the solar powered panel on top of one of the thatched houses! There was even TV turned on inside. We then took the boat out to Taquille Island which was I’ll just say was not worth the 6 hours return trip.

Alas, as underwhelming end to my trip in Peru, which overall was far more interesting experience then I was expecting! Now on to Bolivia!