Monday, February 18, 2019

Peru: Arequipa - "The White City"

I arrived Arequipa from an overnight luxurious bus where I slept the whole night. Vellocito Backpackers where I have made a reservation informed that taxi from the bus station to their hostel cost about 8-10 soles. I ended up in one that charged S/10 (~USD 3 / ~AUD 4.50 / ~RM 12.50. I wasn't thinking right or I would've bought my bus ticket to Ica before I left the station. Anyway all was well, I ended up getting the ticket from one of the travel agencies in Arequipa city and not charged any handling fee.

Arequipa is surrounded by a trio of volcanoes - Misti, Mount Chachani and Pichu Pichu Peak. Misti sits in between the other two and comes from the Quechua language meaning "The Gentleman". Most of the colonial buildings in Arequipa were built using the white rock from the volcanoes known as sillar. So Arequipa is a white city. Cuzco, on the other hand, is mainly brown in colour.

There were 2 stories on how Arequipa was named. The first was from Aymara language where it means a summit laying behind, with "ari" for summit and "quipa" for "laying behind". The second was about Inca Mayta Capac, the fourth Inca amazed by the beauty of the place and told his troops to stay "Ari, quipay" which means "Yes, stay!" Not sure how true are the stories but all the white buildings around, as well as the nearby El Misti volcano certainly making Arequipa looks bright and welcoming.

If you look at the photography carefully, you'll notice that you can get a photo of both El Misti and Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa in this Plaza de Armas. Basilica Cathedral forms the main building in Arequipa's Plaza de Armas and flanked by more white stone buildings on both sides. These buildings house cafe, restaurants, tour offices, etc.

The first Basilica Cathedral was first built in 1540. Over centuries, the church was damaged by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The clock tower holds an imported clock from England dated back from the 19th century. In the interior, the impressive organ was from Belgium.

The church was not open when I first arrived in Arequipa but I was lucky on the day I returned from Cabanaconde. I had some time before hopping on a bus to Ica and on my random stroll, I notice that it was opened to public, naturally I went in. :)

I actually did a walking tour based on a guide book and the nearest recommended building from Plaza de Armas (aside from Basilica Cathedral) is Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus. It is just off the Plaza de Armas. This church was also built using sillar stone with construction plan from Spain but included influence of Andean motifs. I remembered standing outside a chifa restaurant (chifa is a culinary fusion of Chinese Cantonese and traditional Peruvian) across the road from the church taking photos.

I also spent some time at Monasterio de Santa Catalina and I was surprised myself that I didn't even take one single photo using my phone, which means no photos.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina was founded by a rich young widow named María de Guzmán back in 1579. She was also the first habitat of this mini-city monastery. After that the church welcomed and housed up to 500 nuns in its complex. The monastery complex was about 20,000 square metres. Santa Catalina was also built from sillar stone but the walls are painted in earthy red or sky blue depending on the location. The entrance fee wasn't cheap though, at S/40 (~USD 12/ ~AUD 17 / ~RM 49).

From Mirador de Yanahuara
One of the guide books also recommended Mirador de Yanahuara, a look out point to view the city of Arequipa and the volcanoes. Yanahuara is a suburb in Arequipa next to the historical centre. It is 30 minutes walk away but still walkable. I didn't think the view from the lookout is that great really. Well, of course, there is also a pretty church nearby, Yanahuara's Church - San Juan Bautista but if I was running out of time and still rush to get here, I would not be impressed. Guess the view in Cuzco spoiled me, also I find the view from the bridge on the way back to Arequipa's historic centre is prettier.

From bridge
I took my lunch food photo with my dlsr so no photo here but I really enjoyed my set lunch meal in Arequipa. Lunch meal set me back S/20 and came with snack of corn nuts (so more-ish), entree of ceviche, main meal of pescado al ajillo (fish with garlic sauce), a drink and dessert of mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding). It tasted like chicha morada (purple corn drink) with cinnamon spice and in the form of thickened sweet soup, not exactly like the set pudding).

Arequipa is also famous for queso helado (S/3) which literally means cheese ice-cream but it didn't taste cheese but milk. I was also told it is made from milk, so, not sure why it isn't call milk ice-cream instead.

The other snack I tried in Arequipa was humita (S/1) (steamed corn cake). Humitas are wrapped in banana leaves but the seller will take them off and put in a plastic bag for easier consumption. The one I had is a sweet version.

Side note: Other place that is usually recommended is Museo Santuarios Andinos (Andean Sanctuaries Museum). This museum houses a preserved more than 500 years Inca girl Juanita who was discovered at the foot of a mountain. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Peru: Long distance buses in Peru

Buses are the way to go, unless you opt to fly. I flew to Cuzco and made my way back to Lima by bus. I still don't like bus rides because I get motion sickness from the rides. Stuck in a bus for long hours but couldn't read, watch movie or fall asleep. Since it is unavoidable, I make sure I brought along some avomine tablets. They work wonders.

I took 2 long distance buses plus one shorter one, and I mean the more luxury type, not the local smallish type of buses. These were the routes I took, along with the bus company that I went with.

  1. Cuzco to Arequipa. Civa, 20:45 - 07:45 (+1), S/110 (~USD 33 / ~AUD 46 / ~RM 135)
  2. Arequipa to Ica. Cruz del Sur, 19:00 - 06:00 (+1), S/120 (~USD 36/ AUD 51/ RM 147)
  3. Paracas to Lima, Cruz del Sur, 16:10 - 20:10, S/58 (~USD 18/ ~AUD 25 / ~RM 71)

Cruz del Sur is probably the most famous bus company and once you start reading about bus companies in Peru, this is probably the one that you would come across most frequently. The bus terminal in Cuzco was about 10 minutes away from Plaza de Armas. Taxi to the outside of the bus terminal costs about S/5 (~USD 1.50 / ~AUD 2.20 / ~RM 6.10).

Taxis could go inside to the front door of the bus terminal but it is not worth it given the traffic and having to pay the entrance fee. Just take a taxi till the outside and walk in. Tell the taxi driver, "Terminal terrestre por afuera. Cuanto es?" (translated to outside of terminal terrester. How much is it?)

Terminal terrestre is the bus station. I wasn't in a rush so I told Ludwig that I would hail a taxi myself from the plaza. The first taxi wanted S/10 and refused to go any lesser, so I said "no, thank you." The second cab agreed to S/5.

Ok back to the buses. As I have no other reason to make a trip to the bus station except to buy a ticket, I opted to get the ticket from one of the many travel agencies around the city. There isn't a recommended one, I usually go into one that I feel comfortable when I looked in. Very unscientific approach. The agencies usually charge a small handling fee. I paid S/110 including a S/5 or S/10 handling fee (from memory). If I were to take a taxi to the bus terminal to buy the bus ticket, I would need to pay at least S/10 for a taxi return trip.

I can't remember the name of the shop I went in Arequipa though but I wasn't charge a service charge.

At a quick glance, it is obvious that Cruz del Sur is more expensive. When I bought my first bus ticket with Civa, I asked the staff in the travel agency what's the difference between the bus companies. Her replied was the service.

I went ahead and bought the ticket with Civa, the bus I took was an Excluciva range of bus. It came with a 180° seat and was really comfortable. I slept within the hour I boarded the bus till next morning, just before the bus was pulling into Arequipa city. I didn't even watch any movies.

Bus ticket also included a snack, the first photo at the top, and a hot beverage. I found the air con on the bus a little cold even under the blanket that they provided. There was also a staff working on board the bus, a bus attendant, just like the flight attendant.

I thought this is quite nifty, the design is a bit like milk carton
I was such a noob and didn't realise that I need to check in my luggage just like taking a flight. In Malaysia (at least when at the time when I used to take buses), you would just drop your bag in the storage area under the bus before board the bus. The luggage check for these buses work just like a flight, just at a different counter. Locate the bus company you hold the ticket, tell them you want to drop your bag, they would register it on their computer, tag your bag and give you a receipt for safe keeping.

Another thing to note about taking these buses are departure tax. There will be this booth in the middle of the bus station for you to pay the tax. I paid S/1.40 in Cuzco and S/3 in Arequipa. I hope I had them recorded down correctly as the difference between the 2 cities is big.

Hot meal was served on Cruz del Sur, and you can choose beef, chicken or vegetarian. As it was a night bus, I opted for vegetarian. I was on Cruzero Suite with reclined up to 160°. Opposed to Excluciva bus, I find the aircon in both the Cruz del Sur buses I took a bit too warm. Haha.

Also came with a hot beverage
The one from Paracas to Lima isn't really long distance despite it took 3 hours. It was a normal sitting bus but also came with individual entertainment unit and snacks.

Meet Peru's national non alcoholic drink, Inca Kola. Actually both Inca Kola and Coca Cola were served on the bus. In fact when the bus attendant came around he asked, "Inca or Coca?" I was curious about Inca Kola but didn't really want to buy a whole bottle of Inca Cola to try. So I gladly asked for Inca Cola. It looks as yellow as in the photo but doesn't taste as terrible as one would imagine. Maybe a crossover flavour of ice cream soda and coke but if I'm to vote, I'll go for Coca.

Side note: What is this... I barely done anything and it is almost 5pm...

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Peru: 4D3N Tambopata Amazon Jungle Region via Puerto Maldonado

Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado are 2 gateway cities for entering the Amazon. Iquitos offers both Amazon River cruises and lodges, whereas Puerto Maldonado only offers jungle lodges. Due to geographical reason, I decided to go to Puerto Maldonado as Iquitos is north of Lima. It would've been perfect if I could fly to Puerto Maldonado from Cuzco and out to Arequipa. Unfortunately there is no direct flights from Puerto Maldonado to Arequipa so it takes up a lot of time and increase in cost. So I took a return flight from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado.

Cuzco Airport is only about 5.5km from the historic centre of the city, S/10 (~USD 3 / ~AUD 4.30 / ~RM 12.30)

Amazon lodges are not cheap because they usually cover both accommodation, food and activities. I saw a recommendation on tripadviser on Green House Tambopata with good reviews and more affordable comparatively because of the location being closer to Puerto Maldonado city.

I also noticed the website has had a refreshed since I last visited the site. I had 4 days 3 nights and paid USD 293 (~AUD 413 / ~RM 1192). I had reservations about signing up a "package tour" but reasoned that no point I travelled to Amazon and just sleep in the lodge. Besides I would need a guide if I want to sight some animals. I did enjoy myself for most of the time, the rest of the time is more likely of my own social awkwardness and lack of Spanish language knowledge.

However, when I was there I realised that I could made reservation at the lodge myself and the lodge owner/manager could assist to organise some activities too. So if I am given a choice now with knowledge that I could do that, I would do that instead of signing up for the "package tour". Not because the "package tour" was poor but it is not my cup of tea.

I was put up at Green Diamond Amazon Lodge. The lodge owner, Jorge speaks perfect English. The guide I was assigned to, Jumpier speaks English too but not as good, still better than my Spanish. Haha.

Took this photo from the verandah of the lodge I stayed in
Humid hits once I left the aircraft. The same each time I travelled back to Malaysia, almost like a "welcome home".

Day 1
The company owner, Carlos (aka Charlie) and my assigned guide, Jumpier came to pick me from the airport. I was then brought to their office in the Puerto Maldonado city where I paid and they checked my boots size (in case it rains and I need one). Jumpier then sent me to Green Diamond Amazon Lodge on his motorcycle. I was travelling by myself so it is more sustainable and economical to transport me on motorcycle, if there are more people they will be transported by boat.

Once arrived at the lodge, lunch was served and then it was rest and relax time. The lodge that I stayed in was named "Perezoso" which means sloth. How very apt! The verandah was installed with a hammock where I lazed and read a bit.

There were no air con or fan. In fact there was no electricity in the lodges during daytime. Electricity starts running from 6 -10 pm (from memory). If you need to charge your electronics, you can leave them at the main lodge where everybody had their meals. There is electricity during daytime at the main lodge. There was also no hot water but as the weather was humid and hot, it was actually refreshing to have cold shower.

At night before dinner, I joined a few other people with their guides on the boat going up and down Madre de Dios River to search for caimans, capybaras, owls and bats. I saw a couple of caimans and while walking back to the dining lodge, we saw our first tarantula. I said first because we saw them pretty much everyday. In fact there was even an unofficial resident tarantula at the lodge, a seven legged one which was named Charlotte. I joined another party of 5 travellers (3 guys and 2 girls) from Spain for day 1 to half of day 3 as they did 3 days 2 nights. Each group were assigned one guide and their guide was Johnny. Johnny doesn't speak a lot of English but I felt he was a more experience guide comparatively. He was the one giving explanation when we had excursions.

Hand for comparison... This is not Charlotte
Day 2

We started off with breakfast before a full day excursion for day 2. There were a lot of dishes with bananas and/or plantains, sort of to replace potatoes.

Day 2 was spent in Tambopata National Reserve. Tambopata National Reserve is a preserved land in Southeastern Peru of about 274k hectares and houses a huge varieties of butterflies, mammals, birds and faunas. One of the 3 rivers flow into Tambopata National Reserve is Madre de Dios river, so our transport to the reserve is via boat as the lodge is just by Madre de Dios river.

On arrival we walked on a trail towards Lake Sandoval. Along the way, Johnny would point out some trees and gave explanation. We saw some different species of monkeys.

We did bird watching on one of these rowing boats but I didn't have to row. I also saw my first giant river otter and was fairly excited. After awhile, we took a break for lunch.

Lunch was a pre-packed juane. It is a traditional Peruvian food consisted of rice, meat and egg wrapped in banana leaf. It reminded me somewhat of briyani rice taste. I rather like this one.

After some resting time, we were brought to the bank of Lake Sandoval for some swimming activity which I sat out. I didn't bring a change of clothes and not keen on having to carry wet clothes in my bag generally. Then we did another round of bird watching and giant river otter search before returning on the same 3 km trail walk back to where we started.

After dinner Jorge prepared a camp fire for us and Johnny talked about the culture of natives in the area.

Day 3

Day 3 we visited a native family to learn about their culture. We were shown how to start a fire with stick and something that looked like coconut husk , also how to roll a wool into thread which all of us failed terribly when we tried. We also took turns to try archery which I took too many tries to get a shot where the arrow didn't just fall flat on the ground.

We walked there from the lodge and on the way Johnny plucked a cacao fruit. I've not seen it in real life before but I could recognise this thanks to Malaysia's postage stamps series. Many years back Malaysia launched a series of plants series and one of them is cacao. Johnny very kindly opened the fruit for me to try, it reminded me of mangosteen.

Day 3 was adventure day. After breakfast we kayaked to where we did canopy walks. My poor guide kayaked with me, else I don't think would last very long. Many thanks to the kayaking session to Cathedral Cove it wasn't scary, also this being a river, it wasn't choppy.

I'm not scared of canopy walks but I am scare of falling sensation, so the activity right after canopy walks terrify me (I think still...) because this leads to ziplining. There were only 5 sets of equipment so I had to wait for the other group to finish first. So my poor guide had to do it with me too. While waiting I heard people shouting, "frena" which I had to ask to know that it meant "brake" because one has to pull down one of the rope to brake, else run the risk of ziplining yourself to a tree. If brake too soon, you'll be stuck halfway and will have to manually pull yourself to the tower. My take? I shouldn't be trusted to need to do anything when I am already scare.

I am really appreciative that Jumpier ziplined with me because I didn't realise that I needed to zipline twice, from 2 different towers. So I had to re-attach the harness to the second tower by myself if I was to do it alone. I am a little clueless to this. One of the guys in the group of 5 was an expert in ziplining so he was helping everybody to check their gears too. His advice to me was, "Don't think too much, just go." It was true though, there was no time to think as things happened very fast.

I also found out that the scariest bit wasn't the ziplining. There were 3 towers set in a triangle, so it was zipline from tower 1 to tower 2 and tower 3 back to tower 1. Between tower 2 and 3 though, we had to walk on a bridge the width of a wooden plank. Somewhat like the above canopy walk but much narrower, no safety net at the side but of course harnessed to a rope at the top. I find this was the scariest bit. I have no idea on this and thought I only had to zipline once. I've already ziplined from tower 1 to 2 and there was no other choice except to continue as there were no other way down. We were at the height above trees. Scary but beautiful.

The other group left after this, their flight was back to Lima. I had some free time after till night time when my guide brought me out to search for monkeys and spiders.

Day 4

I had about half day on day 4 managed to do 2 activities as it started early. Jorge organised a boat for 2 of his guests to view macaw and parrot clay click and he extended the invite to me and my guide of course. The catch was one has to be really early, we had to be there by about 5am, the boat ride to get there took about an hour, so I was up at 4-ish in the morning.

A clay lick is a naturally forming wall of clay on a riverbank caused by erosion from the river. It is said that parrots consume clay to provide them with sodium supplement or to neutralise dietary toxin. At dawn, macaws and other parrots will flock to these clay licks to eat clay. Tambopato National Reserve protects the world's largest known parrot clay lick, it was a spectacular view when the macaws, parakeets and other parrots flock to these clay licks at dawn. I also had the opportunity of viewing them via a binocular, courtesy of my guide, he loaned them to me for a bit.

After breakfast, I had a little fishing activity. My guide initially planned that we go to the fishing place by kayak. My Spanish isn't great and almost all the time I have no clue what other people are talking about, a small fraction of time I could guess based on a few words that I understood. Somehow at that moment I could tell that my guide was having a discussion with Jorge on the best arrangement to bring to fishing. Before my guide informed me we were to kayak, I just blurted out I didn't want to kayak because I have other clean pants to change to. I only packed enough for 4 days 3 nights and left the rest at Hotel Frankenstein. He was as surprised as I was that I could understand. Haha.

So we took the boat and fished a little, didn't catch any though I could see the fishes swam around the bait which was some pieces of raw chicken meat.

Fishing was the last activity I had in Amazon, after that Jumpier sent to the airport. I did drop some tips at the lodge for the staffs and tipped Jumpier when he dropped me off. I hope I tipped enough as I never know what is the going rate.

Side note: Back to Spanish lesson..... 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Peru: When in Peru... eat cuy, picuro and alpaca

Before I scare off anyone, thought it might be wise to put a disclaimer here. If you do not know what is cuy or picuro, please do a quick google before continuing. Ok, end of public service announcement.

I mentioned in my previous post that I made a reservation for dinner on my first day in Cuzco. I have previously asked a staff in one of the tourist information centre in Pisac for recommendation of restaurants to go. He didn't give me any restaurant recommendation but instead recommended a whole different place called Tipón. Tipón is about an hour away by car from Cuzco so I didn't make a trip and ended up at Kusikuy Restaurante.

Kusikey Restaurante is located in the middle of a series of staircase like this. Even the staff in the restaurant thought I have injured myself as I had to limp my way out. As you know muscle soreness is usually worse when you started walking from a sitting down position. Haha.

The main reason I had to make a reservation before is because of cooking time. I wanted to have cuy al horno (baked guinea pig). If you are trying cuy for the first time, I recommend trying cuy al horno as this is the way it is traditionally served in the Andean region. It is stuffed with herbs and slow baked over a spit, over an hour or so, hence the need for reservation.

I decided to have a full whole meal, complete with the national alcoholic drink of Peru - Pisco Sour. I think at 6PM is an early-ish dinner time so the restaurant was rather quiet though there were 2 other groups of customer, both having cuy.

A whole cuy was brought out for photography purposes first. After that they brought it back in to the kitchen for carving before serving.

A whole guinea pig was served with some side dishes of corn, stuffed fried bread and sauces. People usually described unknown food as "taste like chicken" but no, cuy doesn't taste like chicken, it is a little bit more gamey but less than beef or lamb, with crispy skin. I was told to take a bit of everything and eat together. It is actually quite delicious. I don't mind having it again but maybe not by myself. Despite not looking like a very big plate, it was a big portion and I couldn't finish it all. I paid S/90 (~USD 27 / ~AUD 38 / ~RM 110) for the meal, S/70 for cuy, S/16 for pisco sour and round up the amount. 

I had my first taste of guinea pig in Cuzco. I also had my first taste of alpaca in Cuzco. Alpaca, unlike cuy was not served as whole, understandably. I decided to have alpaca al parrilla (grilled alpaca) so that it wasn't overwhelm by other sauces. Cost: S/35 (~USD 10 / ~AUD 15 / ~RM 43)

I looked up restaurants that serve cuy because I don't want to risk eating horrible tasting cuy, i didn't do so for alpaca. I just rocked up to a shop a few doors down from Hotel Frankenstein where I stayed Alpaca obviously is more common and many more eateries serve this meat. Alpaca reminded me a little of veal.

Picuro is the one in darker colour
Next up was picuro. I had this in Puerto Maldonado, not in Cuzco. I have no idea what picuro is till much later. It was ironic that I was asking my friend if eating guinea pig is equivalent to eating a rat. My friend answered me that it is a common delicacy in Andean region and it has been domesticated, so a bit unlike rat. However, I'm sure the same applies to picuro. Haha.

I have since found out that picuro is a lowland paca, a large rodent. The version I had was picuro mechado (stewed picuro). I was on the way to the airport and my guide to Tambopata National Reserve asked if I want to get some food for lunch. We stopped by the road side and he said that his favourite dish is picuro. I didn't know what it was but so easily convinced so I ended up with this picuro dish. This stewed picuro dish came with side dishes of cassava and bananas, S/18 (~USD 5.50 / ~AUD 7.70 / ~RM 22). It tasted like wild boar and was delicious.

If you realised - I had cuy in a restaurant, alpaca in a neighbourhood eatery and picuro was a takeaway from a roadside stall. I actually ended up eating my takeaway lunch, sitting on a luggage trolley outside of Padre Aldamiz International Airport in Puerto Maldonado. It was a small airport and all the seats at the departure lounge (before security check) were taken. In addition, I didn't want the smell of my food to take over the whole airport.

Side note: I also realised my selection logic is skewed to the ones I do not know... hahaha...

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Peru: Cuzco and the surrounding ruins - Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, Q'enqo and Sacsayhuamán

As I mentioned in the previous post, I arrived Cuzco at night after a long travel day. It was probably already 9pm by the time I checked in Hotel Frankenstein. Ludwig, the owner of Hotel Frankenstein  was kind enough to show me the room straight and sort out the rest the next day. After showered I jumped straight to bed and had a very good sleep.

Different story after I woke up though - I woke up with sore calves, no thanks to me not stretching enough after getting down from Huayna Picchu. Ludwig had a look at me when I walked down the staircase, had a laugh and offered me muscle relaxant cream. I decided to go without it though I was a little regret by the end of the day when I was breathless going uphill and sore calves when walking downhill.

Day 1 in Cuzco was spent going out to check out more ruins, but not before making dinner reservation. I had 2 full days in Cuzco plus some time before travelling out to Arequipa. First stop for day 1 was to make dinner reservation! Then I made my way to Calle Puputi to catch a bus to Tambomachay. The plan is to catch a bus to Tambomachay and walk back to Cuzco... and I learned a new word that day - para llevar (pronounced as pa-ra je-var) means takeaway in Spanish when I got a papaya juice along the way. To have in is para tomar.

Let me side track a little, fruit juices in Peru are the best (so I heard it could be the case for the rest of South America too but I've not been...). Go get one from the market, you'll thank me. I had a mixed fruit juice of orange, mango and aguaymanto (Inca berry) for S/7 (~USD 2.10 / ~AUD 3 / ~RM 8.60) from San Pedro Market. I thought it was a glass for S/7 but it was the whole blender full, so about 2.5 glasses. Yummo and good value.

Even though I planned to catch a bus at Calle Puputi to Tambomachay but I found some colectivo first and it started to rain lightly, so I hopped on to a colectivo, haggled for fare to S/2 from S/3 (~USD 060 / ~AUD 0.85 / ~RM 2.45) and sat down. The driver very kindly announced that we reached Tambomachay and let me off the colectivo. The same colectivo continues to Pisac.

Then this post gets a little tricky because I do not have any photos of any of the 4 ruins I have visited. The only photo I have that comes any close to the ruins is the one above, taken where Tambomachay and Puca Pucara are located. Tambomachay is across the road from Puca Pucara. Excellent view.

Tambomachay and Puca Pucara are quite small. The biggest difference of Tambomachay compared to the other 3 is flowing water from the structure. After visiting both ruins, I walked to Q'enqo. It was an easy walk really, the road is quite flat except needing to watch out for cars. I expected to see more people walking but interestingly I encountered one other person walking towards the same direction but he turned in to Sacsayhuamán straight without stopping at Q'enqo.

I made a little pit stop on my way to Q'enqo and fueled up with the nationally famous tea - Coca tea. Coca tea, of course is a herbal tea made using raw or dried leaves of the coca plant. The same coca plant leaves that contain alkaloids which are the source for cocaine base when extracted chemically. Coca tea is said to help alleviates altitude sickness and relieves indigestion. I can't vouch for the benefits as I slept for very long hours and was perpetually sleepy. Ludwig didn't see me going back to the hotel and when I didn't show up early for breakfast like other people, he even sent me an email to check if I was ok. Oops.

Q'enqo is an Inca temple that was carved out to create a labyrinth of caves. From afar, it looked like a big rock. The walk from Q'enqo to Sacsayhuamán would bring one passing by Cristo Blanco, a large statue of Jesus Christ that can be seen from Cuzco city. Then you would reach the biggest of the Inca-archaeological site of Sacsayhuamán. "H" is usually silent in Spanish pronouciation, so Sacsayhuamán sounds like "sexy woman". At this impressive site, tons of stones were perfectly fitted together despite of their shapes.

I walked down from Saqsayhuaman and came across Plaza San Cristobal, and there were benches. I lingered a little, took some photos and soon it was time for dinner. It wasn't that late, I made reservation for 6PM seating. Shall write about that in another post.

I had 2 full days in Cuzco plus some buffer time after arriving from Puerto Maldonado and leaving to Arequipa. So day 2 was spent walking around Cuzco city and poking my nose to anything that took my fancy, including San Pedro Market.

It was almost All Saint's Day (Día de Todos los Santos Vivos) and All Souls’ Day (Day of the Dead - Día de los Difuntos) when I was in Cuzco (1st and 2nd Nov). So there were a lot of breads in the shape of babies (wawa pan) or horses on sale. Wawa pan are used as offerings as well as for consumption. Ludwig bought one and offered me some before I checked out on 1st of Nov. It is a type of sweet bread, just in the shape of small child or baby.

There are many plazas in Cuzco, the biggest is Plaza de Armas.

From there it was an easy walk to Hatun Rumiyoc street in the historical center to see the famous "Twelve Angled Stone". The Incas were highly regarded for their fine masonry, so this "Twelve Angled Stone" is a display of which even a stone of such shape could be closely fitted without mortar.

The other stop to make is the Inca Temple of the Sun, Qorikancha. This architecture is the combination of both Spanish and Incan influence. Church of Santo Domingo on top of the Inca ruins were built by the Spanish.

To make up for my non existence photos of the ruins and a very random jumbled post, please also try algarrobina ice-cream. Algarrobina is a syrup made from a black carob tree, which is a type of leguminous tree species in South America. Of course I have no idea what it was even after I tried to ask before making my ice-cream choice, this is googling work afterwards. I stumbled upon it in an ice-cream parlour somewhere across the street from Qorikancha.

Here's another photo of Cuzco city, just because...

Side note: I'm still in Lunar New Year mood but all ads are now on Valentines' Day. Ha!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Peru: A short break in Aguas Calientes before Cuzco

Aguas Calientes, literally translated as "hot waters" because of its thermal baths. I can't comment on this because I didn't visit any. I arrived Aguas Calientes at night, stayed overnight, woke up and went to Mach Picchu. I had a couple of hours in Aguas Calientes before my train back to Ollantaytambo followed by colectivo to Cuzco. It was a long day but interestingly I wasn't really tired, I only napped for a bit on the train and colectivo, probably endorphin at work after seeing MP.

Aguas Calientes isn't big and the shops are mostly souvenir shops or restaurants. I flipped through the menus as I walked passed and noticed that they were more expensive that Ollantaytambo. I decided to walk to the market and have my lunch there.

I had the set lunch with starter of sopa trigo to olluco (wheat and olluco soup), lomo saltodo as main mel and agua de limón y sandía (lemon and watermelon water). Olluco is some sort of Andean tuber. Lomo saltado is a popular peruvian stir fry beef dish. It is usually done with yellow pepper and onion. This lunch set kept me full till night!

Lunch meal set cost S/9 (~USD 2.70 / ~AUD 3.75 / RM 11). While I was eating, I noticed there were other people who ordered only the main or just the soup and of course it was cheaper. It was only then that I know I don't have to have the set!

Then it started raining again. I guess I was very lucky that despite it rained when I was in MP but it stopped before I started hiking HP and I had good weather the whole time I was in MP. Nothing much to be done, I checked out the shops, got a postcard and posted out. I am convinced the said postcard is written off as my friend has not received it yet.

The rain stopped and I went back to the hostel and grabbed my back and went to the train station. After awhile, it started pouring. Oh and there was free wi-fi at the station.

I got the 16:22 Expedition 504 back to Ollantaytambo. The train took about 2 hours and right after reaching Ollantaytambo, I haggled for a colectivo to Cuzco. I paid S/15 (~USD 4.50 / ~AUD 6.30 / ~RM 18.40) for this part of the travel. It took about 90 mins to 2 hours or so. I think if you are good at this monetary negotiation thingy, the price would be even lower, maybe S/5 cheaper.

I don't know if it was because I took the colectivo right after the arrival of train to Ollantaytambo or the traffic was always so busy but it took very long to get out of Ollantaytambo itself. There were a lot of stopping. I'm sure the colectivo driver felt the same because once we got out of town area, he made a turn to some construction looking area with no cars. From there he made many turns to similar looking half-way built constructions with no other vehicle aside from us. Once or twice he cut areas with some earthmoving vehicles and workers around.

Most of us just rested or slept but one of my fellow passenger got really worried and made a lady next to her to ask the driver where were we. It appeared that the driver was taking a short cut. So all was good. Worried fellow passenger was also quite chatty and tried to make conversation but nobody really responded as we were are drifting in and out of sleep, or just really not friendly according to her. Haha.

I made it to Cuzco and checked in to Frankenstein Hostel at about 9pm. Good thing was that the colectivo dropped us just a block away from the hostel.

Side note: Melbourne needs to cool down!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Peru: The magnificent Machu Picchu

As I mentioned in my previous post, I booked the 6:00 entrance to MP, which translated to I needed to wake up fairly early. On top of that, I was also worried that I overslept, I didn't have a very restful sleep, unfortunately. To make things slightly worse, I woke up with a mild gastric pain. I popped an antacid for prevention but it was no help. I then remembered that it had passed the expiry date so many not be very effective so I took 2 more but the dull ache lingered. At this point, I wasn't sure if it was an indication of food poisoning since I ate at a random food stall in Pisac market the day before and the food was pre-cooked. So I took a dose of imodium even though there wasn't any other symptoms. I am usually not this prompt in downing so many pills in such short span of time but I was determined to avoid battling gastric pain and gasping of air when I hike up Huayna Picchu. The ache finally went away, I wasn't sure if it was food poisoning because that was all I had, thankfully.

After a very small breakfast (didn't want to aggravate the tummy), I walked out to get the bus. (Please remember your printed out MP tickets, bus tickets and passport!) In my backpack, I also carried water, a couple of muesli bars, camera, raincoat and some random stuff like hand sanitiser and tissue (I am not so organised and don't have all this stuff on any random day).

It started raining when I was in the queue to get in to MP, it was heavy enough for me to take out my poncho, and yes, HP was still opened for hiking. After entering MP, I made my way towards Huayna Picchu entrance. There are many signs around so noob like me won't go missing.

On entering the check point to HP, I had to pen down some details which are the usual of name, country of origin, but it also includes age, date of entry, etc. The wait to get in was quite long despite the queue wasn't. The guard joked that it took so long because many people has issue penning down their age. Luckily the rain has stopped while I was in the queue to enter HP.

HP was easier than I expected, most likely because I am very good in scaring myself. There are some narrow paths where there is no way anyone can bypass anyone else, very high steps but I got to the end in about an hour. I didn't have any training prior because work got in the way (ahem: I was lazy too). It started off where I would walk up 7 floors to where my work station is but after awhile the office building locked the door to the staircase if access from ground floor so I stopped even the little training that I started.

The bit that I was worried the most was the section called "Stairs of Death". They are rock steps of about 183 metres long.

I guess going up isn't as scary but what goes up must come down, so one needs to go down this too even though there are parts that you don't go down the same way. Not this set of stairs though. Many people wrote that the hike up HP isn't hard but don't attempt it if you suffer from vertigo or fear of heights. My friend commented why do I worry since I am not acrophobia. Well, I don't have phobia towards heights but I have fear of falling, hence I always end up standing by the pool side for ages before jumping in.

As fate has it, a doggie decided to jump in in front of me as I was about to climb up. Gave me a little fright due to surprise when the dog appeared bypassed me but of course I let the dog go first.

As you can see, it could be foggy in the early morning. I stayed a little, so did the others so it could get a little crowded at the top as people lingered to wait for the fog to clear. I waited for about half an hour but the best I view I had was like this.

It got a little warm on my way down but the fog didn't clear. On reaching the ground again, I followed the arrow sign and it brought out to the exit! I don't know how to back track to the entrance and possibly I can't because of the one way direction that we are supposed to follow. However, as my ticket included HP climb, I was allowed one re-entry. Upon my first exit, I dropped by the toilet again (there is no toilet in MP grounds) before re-entering.

After re-entering, I picked the upper circuit trail to the Caretakers Hut. If you are up for another hike, you can also do the hike to the Sun Gate. At that time, my view was like this. I was quite prepared that all I could see was a foggy MP albeit a little disappointed and hopeful that the fog would lift.

For the next 20 minutes of so, it remained like this.

So you can see I stood around the Caretakers Hut for awhile despite all I could only see glimpse of this famous Inca ruins. Then this happened.

There is no words to describe the feeling of seeing Machu Picchu at its home, when the fog finally lifted, revealing the Inca ruins. Seeing this unfolding right in front of me is just magical. I might not take the best picture versus the one I can find online but seeing this in real life is simply incomparable. Definitely worth the journey.

I continue hovering around the Caretakers Hut and took 1234123 (yes, I made up the numbers) photos but many photos were taken so even though I lost all my pictures taken using my camera, I still have many on the phone... haha.

I did walk the rest of the grounds before going through the exit again. Remember to look for a little table on your left after you exited to stamp your passport! I visited on 29th October 2018 and the table was just after the exit.

Here are some timing if you are trying to gauge how long things are.
05:25 - started queuing for bus
05:44 - got on a bus
(forgot to record how long was the bus ride but I think it was about 30 minutes)
The longest wait was actually the queue to get in MP itself and to get in HP.
The washroom (SS.HH - servicios higienicos) fee outside MP is S/2. The most expensive I've paid for any public toilets in Peru that I've been.
06:45 - walked to Huayna Picchu from entrance
06:54 - queued to enter HP
07:26 - entered HP
08:28 - reached the top of HP
08:54 - started to hike down
09:38 - reached the bottom of HP
12:28 - started queue for bus to get back to Aguas Calientes
12:40 - got on a bus because the bus that was departing was short of 1 person so I got on the bus but I wasn't at the front of the queue yet.

Side note: The luxury train to MP is named Hiram Bingham, after the explorer who made public the existence of Inca citadel of MP in 1911 with guidance of local indigenous farmers. 

Peru: Arequipa - "The White City"

I arrived Arequipa from an overnight luxurious bus where I slept the whole night. Vellocito Backpackers where I have made a reservation i...