16.12.2012 - 21.12.2012
It is really not as bad as it sounds! It came about due to the complex path we had to follow to get from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Cusco in Peru for which there was two options – spend 60 hours plus on buses to make the journey across the continent, or pay an exorbitant amount of money on a one way airfare. Neither option was appealing so with valuable tools like internet and time on our hands, we made the journey a little more interesting……
Day 1 – Argentina & Uruguay
Ok, so we didn’t really have to go to Uruguay to get to Peru - it was an easy day trip from Buenos Aires (and 5 countries in 6 days sound better than 4 countries in 5 days, right?). We woke up and went to sleep that night in BA, and in the hours in between took a one hour fast ferry to Colonia Del Sacremento on the coast of Uruguay.
This little colonial town on UNESCO’s protected list has been preserved really well, with cobbled roads and a great range of cafes and restaurants to spend time in. We were looking for an escape from the heat of BA and had hoped to spend a day on the beach but the weather had other plans, so it was begrudgingly that we indulged in some local wine and food for the afternoon before catching the ferry back to BA!
Day 2 – Argentina
Today was the day we lazed in the park and wandered through the Recoleta cemetery, soaking up our last few hours of BA before boarding an overnight bus to Mendoza – Argentinian wine country.
Day 3 – Argentina
14 hours on a bus and we arrived in lovely Mendoza: an adventurer’s dream and foodie heaven. The wide streets lined with shops and restaurants almost had a western movie feel about them, and the range of activities on offer seems endless – rafting, hiking, gliding, horse riding and more. But the food! We had our best two meals in Argentina here, accompanied by local wine too. Our 24 hour stopover was primarily to have a break from the bus but if there is a future trip to Argentina, Mendoza will be getting a lot more time from us.
Day 4 – Argentina to Chile
Breakfast in Mendoza was followed by a 7 hour bus trip to Santiago in Chile which took us through the Andes mountain range. We were happy with our seats right at the front of the bus on the upper level so we could enjoy the view, but hadn’t expected it to be so harrowing. Double deck buses and semi-trailers were negotiating the narrowest, steepest roads we had encountered in a while and it was a little scary!
Off the bus, on to the metro and to our hostel for the night. A local tip for dinner had us eating excellent steak and drinking gin for the grand total of $30 between us.
Day 5 – Chile to Bolivia
Air travel between countries in South America can be really expensive: one way fares are extortionate but return airfares make things a little more viable. A return airfare from Santiago, Chile to La Paz, Bolivia fit in with the rest of our trip and although still expensive, saved us from another 24 hours on a bus! After a 4.30am wake up call, and a 5 hour flight with 2 stopovers, we arrived in La Paz.
The city feels like it is in a time warp, it was worlds away from the cities of the last few weeks and even the regional areas of Brazil and Argentina. Women in traditional dress sit on the footpaths selling their handcrafts and home cooked goods, and the buses look like they are from a movie set in the 1950’s. Imagine our surprise then when we sat down for lunch in a tourist friendly café, i.e. English on the menu, and Rhi hears a Glee soundtrack playing! (expecting that only Gleeks will appreciate this piece of news!!)
The La Paz airport is 4,200m above sea level and altitude sickness is a real possibility with symptoms including headache, nausea, lethargy and loss of appetite. We suffered from them all! On arrival at the airport there is a medical assistance office before you even get to the baggage carousel which indicates how common it is to be unwell. It is cold here too in summer – we are back in jeans and boots with jackets and beanies.
Day 6 – Bolivia to Peru
We walked the markets of La Paz before boarding our third and final (hurrah!) overnight bus that would take us to Cusco in 14 hours. We got to the border around 7pm where our lack of Spanish made things a little confusing, but with passports stamped we walked out of Bolivia and across the border into Peru ready for the adventure that the next week would bring.
We arrived in Cusco at 6am and found a city very different to La Paz. Cusco is Peru’s wealthiest city and it shows – beautiful manicured gardens and fountains in European style piazzas, impressive churches, mansions now converted to hotels and restaurants to suit every budget. It was far more developed than we had anticipated, and much prettier too. In centuries past it was the centre of the Incan empire until the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century.
With a few days in the city to acclimatise before we started the Inca trail we made the most of the cafes and restaurants which, although more expensive than Bolivia, are still reasonably cheap and really good. We have tried alpaca in a few different dishes which is ok, but we just can’t do the guinea pig even though we are told it is delicious!
Machu Picchu is of course the main reason everyone is in town, including us, but there are many other Incan ruins around Cusco that deserve a visit. We took a day trip to see three of the Incan sites in the Sacred Valley but you could easily spend more time in the area and explore more thoroughly. The size and location of the sites are evidence of the intelligence of the Incan people – much like our awe in Egypt, we found ourselves wondering how they were able to construct these buildings with the resources that would have been available in the 13-15th centuries.
Peru is a beautiful country with magnificent landscapes and the temperature right now in the summer is perfect for hiking, although it is wet season and the nights are still cold enough for beanies and gloves. Ahead of us is a four day trek to the magical Machu Picchu, lost city of the Incans, where we will be hiking the 45km Inca trail and camping along the way, so it will not be a typical Christmas for us this year. Everything we have heard and read tells us the view at the end will be worth the effort. We will let you know!