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Peru

crossing the border


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Tuesday 29th October 1985

The next morning I spend about two hours crossing the border and changing money. No trouble, just lots of little offices and queues, all spread over several kilometres. The policeman on the international bridge tried to bum a pound note of me for his "collection". I said I was collecting them too and he dallied sulkily with my passport.

A pleasant lady outside Peruvian immigration sells me a Tepsa bus ticket to Trujillo for 117,000 soles. A French man on a bicycle passes by. Then two Germans on large Japanese motorbikes. Ahead, for all of us, lies 1000km for poor desert road down the barren coast of northern Peru.

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vast desolate Chan Chan


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Wednesday 30th October 1985
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I arrived in Trujillo at 1.30am cold and dusty after 15 hour bus journey from the bored with Equador. Wild barren and craggy desert scenery mostly, with tatty towns servicing the highway at irregular intervals. The highway had lost alot of its surface so it was a bumpy ride with lots of swerving to avoid potholes, small children and the like. The desert was a uniform grey brown colour, its dust coated any shrubby thorn bushes or spiky cacti. Colourless. An occasional black silhouette of a vulture, ? condor, added tonal range and brief visual interest.

Manage to wake up a random hotel but they won't open the gate. Find Pension Lima open, fresh spittle on the room floor, grubby feet had been in the sheets, but fall instantly to sleep.

Move out at 7 in the morning to Hostal Vogi, a modern room with mock tudor furnishings, hot water, flushing sit down loo and a bidet for 48,000 S. Luxury. Enjoy my ablutions and catch a bus to Chan Chan a few kilometers out of town.

What a vast and desolate place. The sky is flat and off white with the low morning cloud. All around are acres of pale brown crumbling adobe ruins. Some of the old palace walls approach their original height. In the distance I can hear the muffled roar of the sea. The civil guard drive off after their night shift trailing a dust cloud. The best royal compound, the ancients built a new compound for each new king, has been restored and sandy mortar protects the top of the 10' adobe walls. Many of the decorative mouldings on the walls survive, and seem like enlarged weaving patterns, simple large bold deep bas relief. Parallel lines, geometric patterns, some recognisable as fishes or birds. Little on site info but I had read a lively account of this place in a Nationa Geographic magazine I found in Oaxaca.

After lunch I get on a bus going the wrong way and go to a nearby village and back. Get the correct bus to Huaca del Draga, an adobe temple. Well preserved wall mouldings of serpents eating people. The temple is a huge square mound surrounded by ? vertical storage chambers with a big ramp to the top.
Chan Chan

Chan Chan


back in Trujillo in the evening I meet local student called Alexandro at an exhibition about trees I had wandered into. He is very amusing to the point of mania. We end up drinking a bottle of cheap, 90 cents, coconut liquor, smoking and listening to Bob Marley tapes whilst his mother snores behind a curtain. make it back to Hotel Vogi at 4am.

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Halloween party in Trujillo 1985


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Thursday 31st November 1985

Feel awful after last nights bottle of cheap liquor. Bank, pack and meet Alexandro for lunch.Round to his college after wher e he is studying English and the tutor has encouraged a halloween party. The whole afternoon the students present little sketches in English. The courtyard is packed, there has not been any rehearsals and it is slow going and chaotic. Things move onto to competitive sports like eating an apple on a string, things now get more hot bloodied and the spectators are roaring each other on.

Many buses for Lima leave late in the evening. We hang around on the road south with hundreds of others in a general melee with minibuses circling. Eventually we agree a collectivo ride for 80,000 S. The drivers won't leave until they are full and the price is determined by the minute by minute demand and your negotiating skill. It's free market chaos.

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Lima in 1985


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Friday 1st November 1985

at the last minute Alex came too, there is an International football match in Lima this weekend.

We are refused at the Hotel Europa, the major gringo crash pad in Lima, possibly because I was with Alex. Checked into a Hospidaje behind the cinema in Jiron Union, 30,000 the double.

Lovely letter from Keith at Poste Restante. He is enjoying his GP attachment.

Lima has the usual city pollution. The Plaza Independencia has the Palacio Gobierno and cathedral on it. Many old and dirty oil paintings in the cathedral. One of the Pizarro's is supposed to be on show in a glass coffin. I only found a small child sized coffin on show inside a glass coffin. Perhaps he wasn't very tall.

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Moche sex


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Saturday 2nd November 1985

I go off to the Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology, a long bus trip across the ciy with an unhelpful conductor. Alexo goes to the Peru v Chile football match. Peru loses and Alan Garcia , el Presidente, orders a new younger team.

Beautiful porticoed museum. Mostly ceramics from Moche, Nasca and Paracas. The Moche collection contains a remarkable series of figurines, like illustrations for a sex manual.

Meet Alexo's friend Gudrun later. She is teaching German in Lima. Eat in a popular fish restaurant, it is a bun fight, Alexo puts on a macho performance getting us a table.

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bump into John and Alan again


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Sunday 3rd November 1985

Eat in the market, excellent, lively, interesting. Bump into John, Alan and Sandy with a guy called Malcolm. Share a few beers. They enjoyed Banos, and have met a middle aged lawyer first generation Peruvian whose father was from Newcastle. He is an anglophile because of these roots and has been showing them Lima, feeding and clothing them. Alan & John travel very sparsely, one small holdall and just the clothes they stand up in, so the jumpers were very welcome.

On the way back to the Hospidaje stumble across a late night fiesta in the streets. Sandal wood incense, solemn marching as a heavy silver berth and effigy is carried on the shoulders of 24 men, slowly swaying and into a church.

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perilous bus journey to Nasca


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Monday 4th November 1985

Buy some film in the market, 2 x 36 transparencies, 150,000. also a very reasonable anorak for 130,000. Heading up into the altiplano next. See Presidente Garcia leave his government palace in a fast well timed motor cavalcade. He has pronounced that the national football team must be revitalised with younger players. Read in the paper that a black market kidney in peru can be had for 1000$. Seems a bargain.

Catch a bus at lunchtime to Cusco. Say goodbye to Alexo. He seems to have suffered some cultural angst from his contact with gringoes over the years. Goodrun says he provided her with an interesting insight into Cusco's underworld, which is very under. After a few beers he could become disturbingly angry, Jekyll and Hyde, felt nervous sharing a room with him, but no harm done.

8 hour journey down the coastal desert road to Nazca. Some rather vulgar campesino ladies enliven the journey. Go through a one way unsurfaced rock tunnel, followed by sever switchbacks around which the lorries and buses have to crawl. Precipitous passing places.

Touts greet the bus. Check into Hotel Nazca, 20,000.

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meet Maria Reiche


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Tuesday 5th November 1985

some lines in the desert

some lines in the desert

Woken up by the Aerocondor tout at 8 because the light is good for seeing the lines. Eventually get airborne in a six seater Cessna at 10am all thoughts of the good light lost in the need to try and fill the plane. 20$. Have a good flight over the stoney plain of Nasca. Hundreds of lines and many geometric shapes, and scores of figures. The surface stones are light brown and by moving them aside the ancient nasca and later the Inca after them revealed the paler sand underneath. The desert sand is very soft so they don't make good runways for aliens! The so called astronaut is more likely an owl headed man, featured also on the ceramics, and is one of the earliest figures. One arm points up, the other down, the owl says come at night, look at the ground to interpret the sky. An owl can look forward and backwards, a helpful skill for prophecies. Some of the lines are 9km long. The figures vary from 4 - 300m in size and were made by scaling up from a drawing. Many of the lines point to solctice and equinox events on the horizon. Maybe the figures are constellations. Maria Reiche thinks the monkey is Ursa major, it is not often visible in Peru, only appearing in December to foretell the coming rains. The figures are impossible to make out on the ground, although claerly visible form the air. Maria Reiche only worked out their shape by surveying them from a step ladder in the 1950s. Must have been exciting discoveries.
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In the afternoon I take a taxi tour of some local sites with 2 other gringoes for 30,000. We visit the ruins of an old Nazca village, later occupied by the Inca. Adobe remains on the edge of a flat valley, hot dry and dusty. Numerous pits had something to do with their ceramics. Some more lines criss crossing with a spiral, perhaps representing weaving. An underground aqueduct still in good condition helped water the desert. It is about 15' underground with regular access pits for maintenance. It filled a small reservoir. Some kids were bathing in one of the access holes. Cotton was being grown.

In the evening, back at the Hotel Turistica (15$ a night), Maria was wheeled out. She stays here now courtesy of the Peruvian government. She is rather stiff with Parkinsons and has to be assisted to her chair and propped up with pillows and a shawl. She talked into a microphone, switching fluently between several languages according to the nationality of her audience. She kept us informed for 45 minutes. Her book sales pay for the salaries of 3 motorcycle guards who try to stop ignorant people driving their cars over the lines. Her legs were rather fidgety and her stockings fell down.

At 11pm catch the luxury bus to Cusco, 540 kms, about 30 hours and 216,000.

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unexpected stop over in Arequipa


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Wednesday 6th November 1985

Arrive in Arequipa at 10am to change buses, but bus does not leave until 6pm. That explains why it is going to take 30 hours.

Have an unexpected but welcome day in beautiful Arequipa. Attractive town with huge snow capped volcano, Misti. Spent several lovely hours in the convent Santa Catalina. Founded in the 1500s and a closed order since then. At its peak there were over 400 nuns, now there are only a handful, and much of this beautifully preserved mediaeval miniature town within a town is open to the public. Dormitories, bathrooms, laundry, little bedsits, geraniums, narrow streets, muy bueno.
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Get overnight bus, no longer luxury coach, and hereafter unsurfaced roads up into the Andes.

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a bus in the Andes


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Thursday 7th November 1985

erratic sleep, stiff neck and headache. Still only half way to Cusco. It has been raining all night and the unsurfaced road is treacherous. The mud has formed a brown emulsion over the whole bus so we can no longer see out of the windows. Stop for lunch and a pee in a beautiful windswept valley. Grubby locals buried under great loads of fodder move about the fields. Expansive multilayered knee length colourful skirts, no knickers so one can have a wee without exposing ones bottom, embroidered blankets and bowler hats.
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Arrive in Cusco mid afternoon, warm and sunny. Inca masonry visible getting off the bus. Hotel Suiza dorm 18,000 hot water and lovely glazed central patio. Bliss.

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wake up to find Jessica in the next bed


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Friday 8th November 1985

Wake up to hear Jessica calling my name, she is in the bed next to mine. last met in Quito. She had a hair raising journey up from Nasca. The road was completely blocked by a fresh landslide. The had to climb past on foot and she slipped on the edge, but was caught by fellow traveller. The had to wait the other side of the landslide for the bus coming the other way.

Meet John and Maria, a married couple, and we shop for equipment to hire for the Inca Trail. John has just given up accounting, he worked for the International Monetary Fund, but found encouraging poor countries into greater debt was unsatisfying as a career. He met maria, a german australian in a lavatory in India. She is a final year medical student on her elective. They have been married a year and their relationship is still fundamentally scatological, as it inevitably becomes if you travel together in India. John stars at newcastle medical school this year, and Maria is about to start her house jobs.

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kilometer 88 and the Inca trail 1985


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Saturday 9th November 1985

Up at 5.30am to catch the train up the valley. The train climbs its way out of the Cusco bowl with a series of zig zags to gain height, through adobe and terracotta suburbs. Crosses on the top of the roofs to ward of earthquakes. After about 3 hours we are dropped of at Kilometer 88. Pay 105,00 for the start of the Inca Trail. Hot sunshine, the bright air crisped by the scent of eucalyptus. Change into shorts and get bitten by flies.

Leave the Urobamaba valley and turn right up the Cusichaca valley. At this junction we see some terracing and the steeply saved stone houses of pre Incan peoples. Site continuously occupied since these ancient times, unlike Macchu Picchu which was probably only occupied for 100 years. Several other hikers on the trail today. Chris and barbara in a yellow tent. Tom the 6'8" Dutchman, with Francesca the Italian fiancial advisor to a construction firm in Brazil.

After 5 miles hot walk through the alpine scenery we reach the small muddy village of Wayllabamba. Here we turn up a side valley along the Llullucha river. This leads up to the first high pass at 13,776'. We camp for the night a few hours before the pass, just above the tree line amongst some bogs and mountain cattle. Exhausted. That evening my pulse stays a thready 120bpm. Tom's pulse was a strong steady 60. At this height even walking slowly makes me breathless. Collect some wood. Eat spinach pie form the hare Krishna restaurant in Cusco. Heat up some soup, sing some songs and have a smoke.
first camp

first camp

slow climb to the first pass

slow climb to the first pass

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Humming bird at 13,776 feet.


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Sunday 10th November 1985
Chris, Jessica and Barbara

Chris, Jessica and Barbara


Breathless and restless all night. Trudge very slowly due to the altitude up to the first pass at 13,776 feet. Cold and windy. The clouds descend around us. Steep descent the other side. So far the trial is just a simple rocky path. Hint of a few cut stone steps at the top of the pass. Top of the pass was 6+ miles from Wallybamba. Descend into a mossy wooded valley. Lots of flowers along the way, wild lupins, begonias, violets and numerous epiphytes and bromeliads. Surprised to see lots of humming birds, even saw one up at the pass. There are more than 60 species of hummingbird in the Andes. No condors up here, they are more numerous on the coast, where there is more food.
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half way up the other side of the valley is a small ovoid Inca lodge commanding stunning views. Brew some coca tea. Have been chewing foul coca leaves on the way to help with the altitude. A mouth full of dry leaves and ash is quite emetic, but soon the saliva runs and the mouth goes numb. The path is paved with rough stones.

Climb the second pass at 13,120 feet.

The clouds clear for a dramatic view down the valley ahead. Bright green lake half way down. Follow the trail along the side of a steep grassy mountain to dramatic sight of the Sayajmarca ruins on a precipitous bluff at the junction of two valleys. From here you can see 3 Inca roads, one up each valley. Aqueducts, houses and small terraces are perched on a narrow site. We all camp on the little triangle of land at the tip of the site as the views are magisterial. Soup and noodles. The trial is clearly visible ahead, a white line curving along the side of the mountains. They seemed to prefer to keep high up and avoid the valley bottoms. Jessica is most inspired by it all. She is an inspired and romantic traveller, on her way home for Christmas after 5 years of fascinating adventures.
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illegal camp floods


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Monday 11th November 1985

The trail is now well paved, often wide enough for two to pass, although we barely meet another soul. Laid with a hard white stone, and beautiful views as the trail clings to the edge of the mountain, at one point the trial negotiates a cleft in the rock where the Incas have carved a staircase.

We make it up to the third pass. Tom and Francesca have gone ahead. Chris and Barbara are resting back at Sayajmarca slowed down by a dose of Atahualpa's Revenge. Cloudy at the pass, but while we eat our oranges the clouds part like a curtain and there, a mile below us, is the swirling Urubamba river. The valley is much narrower now, than further upstream where we started the trail.

The stunning scenery continues as we gently descend to the ruins of Phuyupatamarka at the head of another steep valley, about 3.75 miles form the pass. Many terraces turn the steep slopes into productive land, and a chain of baths still with running water. The ruins are being cleared by a team of workmen who spend 3 weeks up here and then one off back in their village. Lovely curvy stone walls, flights of steps and precipitous views. Lunch.
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Long flight of steps out of the ruins onto recently uncovered Inca trail and first opened to trekkers this summer, and the best bit of the trail, often 6 feet wide. Two tambos, or small lodges, a tunnel, carved spiral steps, a real Inca highway.
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Trail stops suddenly, as if blasted away, at a row of electricity pylons, and we have a steep muddy descent to a hostal in the middle of no where, a white elephant built by the tourist board, already seems to be cracking up. The caretaker, Rosa, and her child, sells us a beer and we slip past to the ruins of Winya Wayna where we camp illegally and in splendid isolation. We fetch water for soup from the base of 150' waterfall.
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alone & one at a time we enter the Inca Gate of the Sun


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Tuesday 12th November
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Its 2am on the Inca Trail, we are camped illegally in some ruins, and it has been raying since we went to bed at dusk. All that rain has been trapped by the Inca walls that surround us and the tent is starting to float - we are awash! Rescue clothes and sleeping bags and tramp soaked back to the hostel under plastic ponchoes and in our underwear. Rosa the caretaker thinks it is hilarious and we sleep on the dining room floor.

Spend a restful day around the hostal and surrounding ruins. There is a grand series of 10 baths, and some houses clustered at the bottom. There is a little windowed courtyard right on the edge, a small ledge can be sat on, feet dangling of a 200m drop to the forest below. Sit and dream of incas past.

Torta and chips at the hostel cooked with great care by Rosa over a primus stove. Then an hours exploration along the side of the mountain through the forest along deteriorating side trail, in places the path has plunged into the void and mossy logs bridge the gap.
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In the afternoon we approach the Gate of the Sun that marks the entrance to Macchu Picchu. There are only the 4 of us here and we approach separately at 15 minute intervals to get the first glimpse with the added drama of solo discovery. Its a bit special. Behind the main site, which now has some people wandering about from the posh hotel nearby, rises the jagged peak of Waynu Picchu, the lassoe hook on the saddle of Macchu Picchu, and around which at its foot the mighty Urubamba roars. It is spectacular. We retreat with out exploring further than the view from the trail entrance and camp again. Use ponchoes as aded rain shields over the tents. Enjoy last packet of soup. Rains all night but secure and dry in tent.
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