When I told people I was heading to Peru I got a lot of ‘that’s on my bucket list!’ reactions.
For some reason it was never on my bucket list, probably because I don’t have a bucket list and don’t know much about South America, apart from the fact that vino rouge from that part of the world was my drink of choice for many many years.
All I knew is that I wanted to do some actual travelling crammed into a couple of weeks and luckily a few friends wanted to do the same. Even luckier, one of those friends is a seasoned traveller and loves to arrange trips so she took the lead whilst I did very little but agree with everything she suggested – thank you darling!
‘We’ decided to travel from north Peru, along the coast, stop at Machu Picchu, do Lake Titticca (yep a real place for anyone who remembers Patsy and Eddie talking about it on Ab Fab) and finish at the Bolivian salt flats. We were going flashpacking!
The first stop was a gorgeous 5* hotel in Paracas, 3 days of doing very little after a long flight, sun sand and food = perfection. We rocked up to the huge gated hotel with our backpacks looking like we had been travelling for the last 24 hours… needless to say the security wanted to see proof we were actually staying there and were able to pay. I don’t blame them, we didn’t look like their normal clientele walking into the beautifully lit, serene smelling air conditioned lobby.
On the 2nd day in paradise we visited the poor man’s Galapagos Islands, which was far from poor. We took a speed boat to a couple of islands full of wildlife, birds, penguins, starfish, sea lions (who are much noisier than you could ever imagine and really enjoy a good old pose up for the cameras), the whole experience was surreal.
After Paracas we literally hopped on the Peru Hop bus to Huaccina for a couple of hours. Peru Hop is a hop on – hop off bus that travels to all the major spots in Peru – awesome way to see the country and the buses are pretty luxurious (as buses go). Huaccina is pretty small – with only a couple of places to eat or so we thought). So we ventured into the nearest ‘eatery’, a hostel that the bus stopped right outside. I can’t even begin to describe the rankness that was the hostel (which tried to paint itself in better light by referring to itself as Peru’s no 1. Hostelle – which I am hopeful it was not). For lunch we had some dry Avo on toast whilst watching the young’uns frolic in the STD ridden pool. After lunch we went for a little wander and whilst still itching from our recent hostel experience stumbled across the most beautiful oasis surrounded by amazing looking restaurants… such is life!
Our next stop was Arequipa, after an overnight bus. I must say I was dreading this bus ride, I’m a light sleeper and with no vino lubricant to lull me into lullaby I wasn’t looking forward to the coach trip. But after stopping off to see some of the Nazca Lines I feel into a deep sleep woke up to find myself in the colourful town of Arequipa.
Obviously being from the UK we aren’t used to seeing the sun that often, so, excited by the rays beating down on us Alicia and I went for a wonder into town in our beachwear. After a couple of blocks we noticed pretty much everyone else was in huge puffa jackets and hats giving us the look I give people popping to the shops in Havianias in the winter in London.
Going for lunch I was horrified to see a full page of Guinea Pig on offer and the following page had Alpaca being served in all shapes and sizes, this made me sad, very very sad. My favourite animal (apart from kitty’s) and there are alpaca everywhere in Peru, really smiley ones! How can you eat something that looks at you wide eyed and beaming!? Needless to say my cannibalistic friend tried it and said it was delish. I’ll take her word for it.
In Arequipa our 4th friend joined us and after a couple of days exploring we made our way by internal flight to Cusco. I had heard people talk about Cusco really positively but I wasn’t quite prepared for how cool it would actually be!
We arrived at our gorgeous hotel to be greeted by Dennis the receptionist who I think loved his job more than life itself, and we loved Dennis. On day 1 whilst we were getting into a taxi Denis ran out to the car shouting girls girls! Worried one of us had blocked the loo with paper and caused a huge flood (paper is for the bins not the toitlets in South America) we were relieved to find he actually just wanted to check we had all remembered our sun cream.
On our second day in Cusco, Nicole and Emma did a horse ride through the beautiful scenery of the countryside and myself and Alicia went to cookery school (food over horses for me everytime!) Before cookery school our guide took us round the local food market and talked us through all the different ingredients we would be using to cook our 3 course meal, Ceviche, Quinoa Risotto and a yummy Fruit Parfait. The markets were stimulation for the senses, sight and smell. Colours everywhere and I have never seen as much variation of corn as I did in the markets of Cusco, white/yellow/black/green, big, small, hard, soft (sounds like I’m going off topic but I am still talking about the corn)!
The first 20 mins of cookery school was learning to make a Pisco Sour (one of the national drinks of Peru). When I highlighted I couldn’t have alcohol not an eyelid was batted and I was simply told water as a substitute for the liquor would be equally as delicious, which it was. It’s funny, in early recovery I would wind myself up imagining all the judgement I would receive when I told people I didn’t drink, but even on the other side of the world no one cares. The stigma is slowly dissolving!
Our 2nd day in Cusco was spent in Machu Pichu. We didn’t do the trek as that would take a few days and we wanted to cram in as much as possible! We got up early, got a bus to the train station and got the most beautiful train with 360 windows to Machu Pichu village. From there we took the winding roads up to the top of the mountain, passing rivers and jungle scenery. I honestly thought that once we were at the top of the mountain we would hop off the bus and see the view – you know the one where everyone takes their insta pics – and that would be it. But the site was huge, we walked round with a tour guide for almost 3 hours and still only covered about ½ of it. The walking around was much more difficult than anticipated – we were all grateful for our hiking boots as we bumped into a Dolly Parton-esque lady that suffered from vertigo hiking in FLIP FLOPS, hanging onto people for stability. People are amazing.
The scenery was incredible – like something out of this world, nothing seemed real, but more like a film set.
I had a few teary moments as I realised where I was, what I was doing and quite how far I had come over the last few years.
My friend Nicole and I decided to trek down the mountain rather than get the bus and meet the other girls in the village. The trek took a couple of hours and took us down some very steep steps and through some beautiful, colourful jungle scenery. By the time we were back on the train we were absolutely knackered and our knees felt a little weaker but it was totally worth it.
Our last night in Cusco we spent at a stunning hilltop bar overlooking the lights of the city. A truly amazing place – by far the favourite place we visited. I looked at the serious travellers who had packed in their jobs to sell friendship bracelets on the streets of Cusco and wondered if I could do the same… but Ted and my family are too far away. Still, a tempting thought.
From Cusco we went to Lake Titicaca (I still can’t get over that that is an actual place). We were picked up from the ‘harbour’ and took a small boat to the family’s floating island that we were staying for the next night.
Arriving at the island we were greeted by the mum of the family living there – dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing and with a huge grin on her face! The floating islands are each made up of straw and roots that are mostly oxygen – hence the floating. It was a back to basics 24 hours which I absolutely loved, reminding me of my childhood summers in Finland.
We chilled on the deck chairs, went fishing with the ‘man of the island’ visited the local schools (also on a straw floating island) and ate with some other visitors. At the end of the meal the family’s daughter (I would hazard a guess at being 7 years old) helped clear the plates away and calculate how much change we owed in our various currencies. I look back on how I was when I was that ages a feel flushed with shame!
Next stop was Bolivia! More specifically, the Salt flats. Which, when dry look like miles and miles of hard snow and when wet look like you are walking on water, which is why most people refer to it as the world’s largest mirror.. You’ve probably seen some Salt Flat photos somewhere, poses with dinosaurs and walking out of Pringles tubes are classics (we obviously partook in some of this action). The tour guides are the most patient, trained photographers ever and had us doing some ridiculous group routines to get the perfect shot! Now if I can just train my friends to do the same thing for the perfect insta shot…
The whole experience was simply amazing! I could have easily done another week and gone to Chile. I’ve definitely caught the travelling bug although I won’t miss asking for ATM’s and Wifi codes everywhere I go.
Love Katie xxx