It is mid-May and the next stop on our whirlwind tour of America Latino
is Lima - Peru. Lima is another huge sprawling South American city
without much to recommend it. It is also often grey and foggy, but Lima is not most peoples' reason for visiting
Peru and nor was it ours. For us, like for countless thousands of others, it
was our jumping off point to see the remains of the Inca empire, Cusco, Titicaca, Colca
Canyon and of course, Machu Picchu. We were also trying to co-ordinate
schedules with fellow (now) land cruisers Chris and Jackie to see if our paths
could cross at some point in Peru.
Peru had so much to see, and so much travelling
to organise, that we had decided to take some of the pain away and find a local
agency to pull everything together. After a bit of web surfing we plumped
for Edgar. He was the only one who seemed to offer a truly made-to-measure
package and make proactive suggestions, rather than presenting a ready-made
brochure offering. Let's start by saying that overall we were delighted
with Edgar and if we ever return to Peru we will seek him out again.
That's not to say that everything always went completely smoothly, it didn't,
but when things went wrong Edgar fixed them. Nor is it to say that we
always got exactly what we wanted, generally we did, but sometimes we didn't,
but that was invariably down to us making assumptions and failing to define
accurately what we wanted. I'm proud to say that we transacted with Edgar
just about 100% in Spanish though we now know that he also speaks English.
Language wasn't the issue here though perhaps occasionally culture was.
We've learned that if you truly go the tailor-made route (and that's not the
"tailor-made" in some glossy brochure, which is really a collection of Lego
bricks) you have to take on board the responsibility of being a knowledgeable
customer, even though you may
take his advice, you have to start by clearly telling your tailor exactly what
So to start at the beginning. Edgar is
actually pretty much a one man band, though actually his wife Betty makes the
odd appearance and his nephew Jorge Louis turns up as the chauffer of a variety of odd
vehicles. Edgar is primarily a mountain guide who puts together trekking
itineraries for more robust individuals than ourselves, who really wanted to
experience the Inca trail. He was trying to broaden his market. We
explained right up front that we didn't do trekking and we didn't do tents.
No problem. He would put together an itinerary more luxurious for the
Our initial problem was to pay Edgar a deposit.
He asked us to send the cash to his wife's bank account, which we were a little
(actually - very) reluctant to do. We really wanted to find a way of
paying that gave us some security. Credit Card? He couldn't take them.
PayPal we suggested, anyone can open a PayPal account. Not in Peru
apparently. "Use ZOOM" suggested Edgar "the same as PayPal". Actually it's
not and also wouldn't accept anything other than a US credit card. Western
Union would only send Argentine Pesos??? In the end we gave in and just
wired Betty the money. And as it transpired we needn't have worried -
Edgar was scrupulously honest.
Jorge Louis and Betty met us at Lima airport with what we believe to be the
dirtiest, smelliest car in existence. The smell was undoubtedly enhanced by
the wall to wall scabby llama skin seat covers. We scratched and exchanged
meaningful glances for the duration of what seemed an extremely long trip to our
hotel. The hotel was fine, we did some independent exploring and Edgar
turned up the following day from his trek (complete with frost bitten lips) to explain the itinerary.
We were to spend several days in Lima, both at
the beginning and the end of our trip. If we had our time over again we'd
spend much less time there. There's nothing particularly wrong with Lima,
but there's equally no particularly good reason to go there. It's just
another big, sprawling South American city. It's also often shrouded in mist -
Lindy's diary is annotated with the words "v. grey" for each of our days there.
Not that this matters much as there's not much to see, but it doesn't help you
warm to the place. Visiting Peru is really about the Incas and the Andes
so the sooner you get to them the better.
There are some impressive pre-Inca remains in
Lima (fronted by a very nice restaurant) and the gold museum is worth a visit,
even though many of the exhibits have allegedly been stolen and replaced with
fakes. All together that'll only use up a day though. Oh and Edgar
offered us a free city tour with Jorge Louis - In the smellmobil? I don't
think so! We made some excuse. When we come back maybe......
Finally, with most of our luggage left at the
hotel, it was off to the airport to fly to Cusco, chauffeured again by Jorge Louis,
but this time in a much nicer car with a complete absence of Llama skin! Maybe
the city tour wouldn't have been so bad after all.
Cusco was to be a sort of base camp for the next
stage of our exploration, starting with the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Now so much has been written about the Inca ruins, so many documentaries made
and so many wonderful photo albums produced, that there's really no point in us
trying to compete with them. So next page or so will be a bit about our
personal experiences and the few things that struck us most forcefully. If
you really are interested in the Incas and the remains, then you should buy the
albums, read the books, watch the documentaries. Or best of all go to Peru
and see them first hand. They are truly, truly worth the trip.
That said, what remains is
awesome. The uncountable number of sites, their size and the fact that
they are built, often in seemingly impossible locations, to line up other
geographical features exactly with sunrise at the solstices. And Machu Picchu is of course the most stunning and famous of these. Also the
scale and quality of the stonework (for which Sacsayhuamán wins the prize, much
of Machu Picchu being quite sloppy in comparison - but then it was built very
quickly). Blocks of 50 tonnes or more, carved to fit together so perfectly
that not a piece of paper could be slid between them. And not simple
cubes, but complex shapes, all matching perfectly. There's no mortar, none
is needed, but more importantly this allows the blocks to move against each
other during earthquakes, which is why they're still there.
Remember also that whilst constructing all these
wonders, these guys didn't have iron, didn't have the wheel, didn't have horses
(and llamas are a poor substitute) and didn't have any form of writing. Their
census and tax information was recorded on complicated knotted lengths of
After a whirlwind tour of the sacred
valley, which is crammed with Inca sites, many of which would be worth a
day or two in their own right rather than the couple of hours we spent
at each one. Back to Cusco for the night to meet up with our
sailing friends Chris and Jackie again. We were passing like ships
in the night. They had just returned from Aguas Calientes and
Machu Picchu and we were leaving on the train to Aguas in the morning.
The train is the only way to get to Aguas Calientes, there's no road,
but from there you can catch a bus up to the site of Machu Picchu.
The younger and more enthusiastic will of course walk. The even
more enthusiastic will have walked the entire Inca trail over several
days and arrived at Machu Picchu via the sun gate - Even climbing or
walking there are only 3 ways of entering.
We took the (6am) Vista Dome train there
(Breakfast served at your table and a glass roof.) and the slightly less
salubrious Backpacker Train back. There is also a train for local people
which we saw in a siding (no idea how - as a gringo - one gets (the presumably
cheap) tickets for that). And also the Hiram Bingham Train - named for the
discoverer of Machu Picchu and owned by Orient Express. Tickets for that
are easy to get -. you just give Orient Express lots (& lots) of money.
An anomaly of the Peruvian rail system is that it
is much slower than taking a bus. So we had been advised by Moises
(Edgar's representative in Cusco) to get off the train at Ollantytambu on the
return trip to Cusco and take a taxi. He would arrange for us to be picked