My Peruvian Highlight

Travelling on a budget means that for me, there are some interesting activities to do or places ‘worth seeing’ that I’m gonna have to miss out on because they are out of my budget. There is also the chance that although these sights or activties come highly recommended, the experience I have after visiting them is so underwhelming I wish I could get a refund. It has sadly happened a couple of times.

Visiting Machu Picchu was the top activity on my to-do list. I couldn’t imagine visiting Peru and not making a stop there. I wanted to book a package trip through a tour operater at home but with prices ranging from £400-1,000, I decided I’d book a package when I arrived in Cusco. I later learned it was a great decision.
There are several routes to Machu Picchu and they vary in length and cost. Based on my time and budget, I had an idea of the kind of tour I wanted the only problem was finding an agency that offered the service I was looking for at a price I could afford.

I got back to my hostel from a day of exploring and found a couple I’d met the week before in Bolivia having dinner in my hostel’s common area. They’d arrived a few hours earlier with plans to do Machu Picchu too and had found a travel agency with a package that cost $85 (£56). It included return transport from Cusco to Hidrolectrica, a night in a basic hotel, an english speaking tour guide as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was convinced!  They took us to the agency later on and I ended up paying $70(£45) beacuse I had a valid ISIC (international student identity card) card. Score! Tip: Other travellers are usually really good sources of information. Take your head out of the guidebook and talk to other travellers.

We met up at 7am in front of the travel agency and set out from there in a van. It took about 7hrs to get to the town where the Hidroelectrica is with two stops during the trip for breakfast and lunch. Some of the roads we travelled on were narrow and I just prayed we wouldn’t have any accidents.

One example

One example

Not long after, we came into a stretch of road where another truck was hoping to pass as well. The road couldn’t accomodate two cars moving in opposite directions so our driver had to reverse till he got to a stretch of road where the truck could go past us. To say I was scared would be putting it mildly.

The truck

The truck

The van stops at Hidroelectrica because you literally run out of roads. From here we walked beside the train tracks for  about 2.5hrs to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. It was quite an easy walk and you pass really beautiful landscape and waterfalls.

A sign before we started walking by the train tracks. I hoped to God I wouldn't need to use it

A sign before we started walking by the train tracks. I hoped to God I wouldn’t need to use it

Some of the pretty views on the walk to Aguas Calientes…IMG_3028

 

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Playing on the tracks

Playing on the tracks

 

Found an abandoned carriage on the way and decided to play pretend

Found an abandoned carriage on the way and decided to play pretend

 

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I did get tired of walking may times and at this point I realised I still had an hour left to go. Not pleased

I did get tired of walking many times and at this point I realised I still had an hour left to go. Not pleased

After arrivng at Aguas Calientes, we waited for everyone in the group we travelled with to arrive and then we all went together to pick up our Machu Picchu entrance tickets at the ticket office . Afterwards, we were taken to our hotels and told to return to a meeting point in 30 mins to head out for dinner. It was a budget hotel and half of it was still under construction but out rooms were completely finished and had hot water. That was enough for me.

After dinner, we explored the shopping streets and ended up getting caught in a rainstorm. I hoped it wouldn’t rain the following morning so we could hike up to Machu Picchu. We were advised that if we wanted to hike we had to start by 5.30am so we could meet out tour guide at the entrance by 6.45am. It was raining the following morning and I decided there  was no way I was going to do the uphill hike in the dark while it was raining. I swiftly went to the shuttle bus ticket office and queued there till it opened. The shuttle cost $12 one way for the 25 min trip.

Pictures of Machu Picchu

One of the postcard views

One of the postcard views

Shrouded in clouds

Shrouded in clouds

The gate to the Citadel

The gate to the Citadel

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I loved the amazing architecture. These have stood for many years and there's nothing holding the stones together

I loved the amazing architecture. These have stood for many years and there’s nothing holding the stones together

Llamas relaxing in a garden

Llamas relaxing in a garden

Our tour guide called them owners of the site

Our tour guide called them owners of the site

Celebrating the fact that i finally made it here. Hehe

Celebrating the fact that i finally made it here. Hehe

This guy walked up to me and asked for a picture with me because he liked my top :D

This guy walked up to me and asked for a picture with me because he liked my top 😀

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Machu Picchu was as amazing and breathtaking as I’d imagined it to be. The total cost was $82 and the trip lasted two days and one night. It was definitely worth it!

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Photo Journal|Cusco, Peru

Cusco is a really beautiful city and I wish I had spent more time there. It was colder than I expected but that didn’t detract from its charm. It was mainly a stop off point for my visit to Machu Picchu.

Young boys offering photos with their Llama for a fee

Young boys offering photos with their Llama for a fee

Llamas grazing on a church lawn

Llamas grazing on a church lawn

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Pretty adobe building

Pretty adobe building

Mercado San Pedro

Mercado San Pedro

The coooks hard at work

The coooks hard at work

Eating in the markets, although not generally advised is almost always the cheapest and most filling option. I had the sopa de quinoa, the lomo saltado and a glass of juice for 4 soles ($1.27). It was tasty too.

Sopa de Quinoa- Traditional Peruvian staple

Sopa de Quinoa- Traditional Peruvian staple

Lomo Saltado. Also a popular peruvian dish. although this one was seriouly lacking in the beef department.

Lomo Saltado. Also a popular peruvian dish, although this one was seriouly lacking in the beef department.

I couldn’t visit Peru without trying Cuy, basically Guinea Pig. My travel buddy, Gina was so freaked out when my food arrived. She kept saying “It’s a rat OG! It’s a rat!”. She kept turning my plate so that “the rat wouldn’t look at her”. I found it quite hilarious. I asked a waiter to take the plate back and remove the head and legs. Personally, I found the cuy too skinny. There was barely any flesh and the flesh I managed to try tasted like chicken. Why does everything taste like chicken?! Oh well.

Cuy (Guinea Pig). A traditional staple dish in the  highlands of Peru.

Cuy (Guinea Pig). A traditional staple dish in the highlands of Peru.

I’m looking forward to a return visit to Cusco. Hopefully, it will be really soon 😉

Cusco's beautiful skyline after a short spell of rain

Cusco’s beautiful skyline after a short spell of rain

Photo Journal| Isla de Sol, Bolivia

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is an island on Lake Titicaca, a 2hr boat ride from Copacabana, Bolivia.
We decided to do a day tour of the island from north to south which allowed us to see the main sights on the island in one day. There are no motor vehicles or paved roads on the island so we explored the island on foot through the extensive networks of walking paths that cover the island.

During the tour, we were told about the history and beliefs of Incans who lived there once upon a time. The Incans believed that Isla Del Sol was the birth place of the first Incan man and woman. I found the island to be one of the most breathtaking sights in all of my time in Bolivia. The pictures don’t do it enough justice but I hope you enjoy them.

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Agricultural terraces on the Island

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Ceremonial table used by the ancient Inca civilization for rituals, sacrifices and offerings

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This stone looked like a turtle to me. I wondered if it was carved or just weathered over time

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Views from a walking path on the island

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Adobe buildings on the island

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My favourite building of all. A little bit of island paradise

 

La Paz, Bolivia

We arrived La Paz really early in the morning once again, probably around 5am. As usual, we waited for it to get light outside. I was feeling a bit unwell due to the altitude. La Paz sits at 11,913 feet above sea level and is the highest capital city in the world. Safe to say, it was freezing and I was starving. When we arrived almost everything in the bus station was closed which seemed strange as it was a week day. We found a shop that was open and warmed our insides. We stopped to ask questions at the information desk. The attendant told us it was a public holiday that day and the following day too. That seemed to explain why  most shops were closed. We stepped outside to find a hostel and then the nightmare began.

Before we left Cochabamba, we met other travellers  that recommended a cheap hostel in La Paz. It is located very close to the bus station. We headed there first, took a look at the available room and I was pretty satisfied with it. my travel buddy suggested we look at a few more hostels before making a decision. I didn’t particularly want to. It was cold, I was tired and I just wanted to rest but I obliged because many times while looking at a few more options I’ve scored cheaper and nicer places to stay.

Walking around at 11,000+ feet when you are not quite accustomed to the altitude is hard. Walking up and down the hilly roads in La Paz with 70L worth of luggage (Backpack, Daybag and messenger bag) for 2 HOURS. That was horrible. We walked around  and found hostels that either had no room or was way above our budget. I lost my  pateince and started complaining. In English. I’d forgotten my travel buddy  spoke no English  nor understood it. She just looked at me like “What’s wrong with you?”  and said “No entiendo nada” (I  don’t understand anything). The height of frustration! I can’t even begin to explain it. I knew I needed to calm down so I started singing some of my favourite praise/worship songs. She could sense my frustration and suggested we walk back to the first hostel we looked at. We got there and they no longer had any rooms available. I was not surprised or disappointed. I was expecting that to be the case. We set off again in search of another hostel and finally found one. We took the room they had and settled down.

After a short nap, we went out for lunch and a bit of exploring. The closest attraction to  our hostel was Mirador Killi Killi. It is one of the best points to view the city of La Paz from. It was quite a steep uphill walk with many twists and turns and it’s generally recommended to take public transport but we decided to tackle it on foot. It was a bit of a chore at times but we stayed on track including running from kids with water guns shooting at us from their balcony. At first we thought it was raining till we heard them laughing. The spirit of Carnaval seems to last for a long while in Bolivia. We witnessed a young lady walking down the street get drenched with a bucket of water and it wasn’t a small bucket either. She was just a pedestrian and this man who was washing his car decided to pour his bucket of water on her. He was laughing too. I felt so annoyed that he would do that. As if  La Paz wasn’t cold enough, he poured a bucket of cold water on a total stranger. If that had been me, I wouldn’t have taken it lightly and he might have lost some of his teeth that day. No joke.

We finally reached the top and got great views of Lap Paz, although it was a bit cloudy.

The city of La Paz from Mirador Killi Killi

The city of La Paz from Mirador Killi Killi

My travel buddy and I

My travel buddy and I

Mountain Illimani towers over La Paz and sits at an elevation of 6438m above sea level

Mountain Illimani towers over La Paz and sits at an elevation of 6438m above sea level

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Beautiful mountains surrounding the city

Afterwards, we walked back to our hostel, got some dinner and headed out to see La Paz by night on the Teleferico. We took Linea Roja (The Red line) which runs Estacion Central-Cementerio- 16 de Julio and shared our carriage with a Bolivian couple who were also using the Teleferico for the first time.

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:D

😀

On the way back there was a power cut between 16 de Julio and Cementerio. Our carriage just hung in the air, only God knows how many feet above the city. We started to panic. I imagined hanging there all night and freezing to death, or the cable cutting and I fall to my death. Yeah, I’m a bit morbid. I tend to jump straight to the worst case scenario. This was also partly due to the fact that only a few days ago, a tree fell on one of the cable cars on another line (Linea Amarilla) and dislocated it. It affected the whole line and about 19 passengers were injured but there were no fatalities. Thankfully, nothing like that happened to us. We hung up there for about 5 minutes taking turns to calm each other down. I laugh when I think about it now but it was not laughing matter at the time.

When we arrived at Cementerio, the doors opened as they passed through the station and we bombarded the staff with questions. They looked remorseful and apologized to us saying it was a technical fault that’s now sorted. The car started to leave the station again but the door didn’t close. I started to panic but they just said “Tranquilo! Tranquilo!” (Calm down) in a very blasé manner. The door eventually closed, when we were in the air. Besides the mishap, it was an enjoyable ride and a pleasant way to see the city at night. So many lights!

The following day we decided to go to Tiwanaku, one of the Pre-Incan ruins in Bolivia. We got to the bus station and found that the last bus was full. The next one would be in 2 hours. Not wanting to wait that long, we went to get something to eat and decided to head to Copacabana instead. We had Machu Picchu to look forward to and for us no other ancient ruin could top that. Maybe next time I visit Bolivia, I’ll make a stop in Tiwanaku.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

I took a night bus from Oruro to Cochabamba and arrived around 4am. I was a bit hesitant to arrive so early in the morning without any lodging pre-arranged. I decided not to worry too much since I was travelling with Gina, a native Spanish speaker. When we purchased our tickets, we told the lady behind the counter that we were a bit worried about arriving Cochabamba so early. She told us that although the bus arrives at 4am, the driver waits outside the bus station till 6am when the bus station opens and we can stay on the bus till then. She lied.

We did arrive at 4am and sat on the bus like she said we could. Then the bus started to move. Gina jumped out of her seat to find out what was going on. The driver said he was moving on to his next destination and if we weren´t going there we had better get off the bus. He refused to listen to what we had to say, so we had no choice but to get off and get our bags.

The view from my hostel window

The view from my hostel window

As we got off the bus, Gina asked a family if we could sit with them while we waited for the bus station to open. We sat outside the bus station till 6am and then continued to wait inside till it got bright enough outside to go looking for a hostel.

We walked around for 30 mins before finding one that was suitable.  We took a nap for a couple of hours and then went exploring the city. First stop was the local market where we had  lunch. After lunch we decided to walk around and take in the sights. Bad idea. When we left Oruro, I imagined that since the big Carnaval parade in Oruro had ended that meant carnaval season was over. Oh, how wrong I was.

Two young boys who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old launched a water gun attack on us. I didn’t even see them. I just felt my bottom get soaking wet. The cheeky children! I turned round and they started laughing. I just kept walking. A little while later, Gina got sprayed in her face with espuma (a foam spray). At this time Gina and I decided to head back to our hostel since we were unable to do anything or have any fun as much as we tried.

On our walk back, we noticed a group standing a couple metres ahead on the opposite side of the road. An adult and three kids. They were bouncing water balloons in their hands. I just kept thinking “Not again”. Gina noticed them too and said “OG, once a car drives past, run alongside it so they can’t hit us”. It took a while for me to process what Gina said. You see, Gina is Chilean and they speak quite fast. I am still learning spanish so its easier for me to understand when words are spoken at a slower pace.

A car turned the corner and was heading up the street. Gina started running and luckily ran alongside it. I was too slow and got hit by a bomba de agua (a water ballon/ water bomb) smack in the back. It hurt so bad. I was shocked at how much it hurt. The guy had a good shot and again I was soaking wet. Gina made a good escape and was in fits of laughter. I couldn’t blame her for laughing, I would have done the same if roles were reversed but I definitely didn’t see the funny side of it. It’s easier and a lot more fun when you can defend or at least protect yourself but at this point I had personally had enough of the Carnaval festivities.

The following day was Sunday, we located the artesanal market and although most shops were closed we found some that were open and like girls do, shopped till our hearts were content. TIP: Cochabamba is the cheapest place to buy artesanal goods in Bolivia. I refused a good bargain there and ended up paying almost three times the price in a town near the border. I didn’t realise how cold it would be in Bolivia and since I arrived with only summer clothes for my trip, I ended up buying another jumper, gloves, a scarf and of course a pretty bag to put them in. Bolivia is the cheapest country in South America so I let myself live a little 😉

On Monday we decided to visit Parque Machia, a refuge for previously injured or captive animals. Parque Machia is located in Villa Tunari four hours away from Cochabamba. The drive was scenic and I enjoyed sitting by the window except when the roads become very narrow and all I could see was a big drop below. It rained a lot on the drive there and I kept hoping the rain would stop by the time we arrived so we could enjoy walking around the park. Finally, we arrived and walked to the entrance only to be told that the park was closed for cleaning. Oh, I could have cried. I was so disappointed. I hadn’t been having a good time so far and I was really hoping that I could have a day that I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Today was not the day. The hopes of seeing some wild animals were shattered.

The only "animal" I got to see

The only “animal” I got to see

We walked around the town for a few minutes and then it started to rain again. We took shelter in a phone shop. I took the opportunity to call friends and family at home. I was on the phone for about an hour and although it cost me a small fortune, I felt a lot better afterwards. I didn’t realise how much of a calming effect it could have on me. TIP: Speaking to people who love and care about you when you’re having a bad day can make a world of difference. They won’t necessarily solve your problems but you’ll feel somewhat better.

When the rain died down, we walked to some viewing points around to see the rivers that flowed past the town.IMG_2651We decided to head back to Cochabamba and getting a bus to take us back was a quite a hard job but we got one eventually. We packed our things at our hotel and headed to the bus station, where we had dinner. We noticed some other rather unsual guests in the restaurant, a cat sitting on a chair and a dog under the table.

Restaurant guests...

Restaurant guests…

I suppose stranger things have happened hehe. After dinner, we got a night bus to La Paz.

 

 

Oruro, Bolivia

I was in Oruro for less than a week but I enjoyed my time there. Looking back now, I realise that most of the fun I had were in moments shared with other people. Although the main point of visiting Oruro was to see the carnaval, I had some free time to do other things. Since I had nothing else lined up, I happily accepted an invitation to visit Las Aguas Termales de Obrajes one of the thermal baths outside the city. I had never been to one before and wasn’t sure what to expect.

Setting off for the day

Setting off for the day

For what seemed like a long time it was just endless dirt road

For what seemed like a long time it was just endless dirt road

We arrived. Finally!

We arrived. Finally!

Enjoying the bath a little too much :)

Enjoying the bath a little too much 🙂 

This is what the bath looked like. It was in a room that had what seemed like a tiled shallow pool. You may notice the pipe in the picture. Apparently, the water that fed the pool was gotten directly from an underground thermal spring.

All the girls; Caroline, I, Andrea ,Ana and Gina

All the girls; Carolina, I, Andrea, Ana and Gina

It was very hot water and provided much needed relief to my aching muscles. I think I sat in there too long. Afterwards, we went swimming in  large pool that was just outside the baths. When the weather started to change and get cooler, we decided to head back to our hostel.

One more 'last one' before heading back

One more ‘last one’ before heading back

The young lady who took the photo above had never seen a black woman in person before and wanted a photo with me. I was happy to oblige and made sure I got a photo of my own.

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Getting a bus back to to town was interesting. Since it was getting quite late in the afternoon, many people like us wanted to leave early because buses stopped running at a certain time and if you didn’t have your own car, you would be stuck there. We waited for 20 minutes and then a bus arrived. There was a scramble for it and only 3 people in our group managed to get on. I was one of those that just couldn’t get on. The others came down and we waited for another bus. The next one that came along had only a few seats but plenty floor splace which we were more than happy to take.

Someone wasn't ready for the picture hehe

Someone wasn’t ready for the picture hehe

 

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It was a bumpy but enjoyable ride and definitely a new experience. On the walk back to the hostel, I came across this public toilet, which also served as a roundabout. I can’t imagine who would use it but I suppose if you get desperate… stranger things have happened.

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The following day I had this for lunch. I cannot remember what it was called now.  It was humongous and delicious. It had rice, salad, eggs, a sausage, plantain, and sooo much meat. As much as I tried, I couldn’t finish it and took the rest home for the dog that lived at my hostel.

 

Lunch

Lunch

I left Oruro that night with only one of the girls in that group, Gina. Our travel itineraries were similar so we decided to continue travelling together. One thing I learnt while travelling is that although I choose to travel alone, travelling with others can be very enjoyable too. I enjoyed my time in Oruro and was glad I was courageous enough to chat with these four Chilean girls over breakfast :D. Strangers became friends.

Photo Journal|Carnaval de Oruro 2015

When I left Cordoba, Argentina I had no concrete plans for what my time in Bolivia would look like. I made no arrangements beforehand and just planned to decide on a whim where to go and what to see. A friend in Cordoba suggested I go to the Oruro carnival when I arrive in Bolivia. Since I had no other plans, I did just that :). Oruro was my first stop.

The Carnaval of Oruro was originally an indigenous pagan festival dating back more than 200 years but has now incorporated Catholic rituals around the Virgin of Candelaria ( Virgin of Socavon). It is also one of  UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (Wikipedia).

The dance routines by certain groups were really impressive. Some dancers said they practice their routines all year round, offering the time they would otherwwise spend with family and friends as a form of sacrifice to the Virgin in hopes that she would bless them with their heart’s desire. The costumes were my favourite part of the festival. Majority of the costumes are hand made and the detail on some of them are really intricate. I got an opportunity to go into one of the shops that designs the costumes for the festival and saw four women working on one costume just applying sequins. Apparently, some costumes can take up to a month to make. I can only imagine how much that would cost.

Anyway, enough of me rambling on. Enjoy the pictures!

 

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The Red Cross attending to some exhausted dancers

The Red Cross attending to some exhausted dancers

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Gina and I (another friend I met on the train from Villazon to Oruro)  It wasn't raining. We just had those on as protection from the foam sprays and water bombs that are part of the celebrations.

Gina and I (another friend I met on the train from Villazon to Oruro) It wasn’t raining. We just had those on as protection from the foam sprays and water bombs that are part of the celebrations.