Lima for a few days with the cats

And so we found ourselves in Lima. It turns out we find cities a little less interesting nowadays so I have a bit less to report than usual. I think I can boil it down to two things.

Cat park
The main square in the gringo area is filled with cats. It is paradise. They are all super friendly and cuddly and I had serious problems dragging myself away. A large portion of each day was spent playing with the cats. Also in the cat park is a piano that anyone can play, so some interesting music and a host of kind strangers with whom I had a succession of conversations that was nice Spanish practice. Egg avoided the nice people. Or maybe they weren’t nice but just everyone looks more approachable with a cat on their lap.
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Astrid y Gaston
The number 17 restaurant in the world, an amazing experience and a ridiculous expensive treat. We went at lunch as it is booked months in advance for dinner (wearing clothes with holes, ink stains and creases, we are not presentable). There are only five tables and the experience took us over three hours and 29 courses. It was good. We were very happy and full and a bit embarrassed at the indulgence.

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Peru hop- Cusco, Arequipa, Nazca, Huacachina, Paracas

So having spent a delightful month in Cusco where we had to do no thinking or planning whatsoever, we were in lazy mode and opted to use Peru hop to get us to Lima. It’s basically a tour, but it is a hop on hop off bus and you can participate as much as you like. Weighing up our hatred of even short tours with the aforementioned laziness we signed on, really swayed by the low cost and the fact in took in everything we wanted to do and absolutely nothing extra. Pretty perfect. Except it was still really just a tour and we felt trapped and fed up and everyone else on it really liked tours (read as ‘weren’t as independent as us’, I’m a travel snob now).

So that being said, after being an hour late picking us up we started, overnight to Arequipa. We had one day by ourselves to mosey around before we were picked up for an overnight tour of nearby Colca Canyon. Arequipa will relish to us as the city of pigeons (for the possibly thousands in the main square) rather than the white city (for the gleaming buildings) as it is traditionally known. We had a really nice day eating at the market, watching children play with/attack the pigeons, and making chocolate in a bean to bar chocolate makers.

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The trip to the canyon takes in a wildlife reserve where we saw many many vicuñas, alpacas and llamas, making up for the horribly early start. Our final coca tea of the trip was enjoyed to bolster our bodies against the altitude and then we arrived in the canyon and had a walk through local villages. The following day we went deeper into the canyon to admire more of the incan terraces and still very traditional villages, and maybe purchase some handicrafts before we arrived at the condor viewing point where we were very lucky to see more of the massive birds that everyone is very proud of. We also tried a super sour cactus fruit called cansayo; surprisingly I quite liked it and egg wouldn’t finish his half.

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Also I bought a hat.

We then went to Huacachina via a short stop at the NAZCA lines, this is what we saw:

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Huacachina is an oasis in the desert, kind of a party town actually, and the only activity is sandboarding. The dunes here are renowned for being huge and we were both really excited to have another go at sand boarding. Also included was dune buggying, which we naively assumed was just transport to the good dunes; in reality it was the most adrenaline inducing thing ever, in the whole world. And completely terrifying. Kind of like a roller coaster but without the safety. On the first massive drive my sunglasses flew off on impact and therefore I spent the rest of the journey blind to our trip and only knowing when to scream because of everyone else’s screams. And at one point the buggy got stuck and had to be pushed out by us. The sand boarding itself was awesome, the dunes are indeed huge, so big that sometimes you have to go down on your belly, super fun.

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We also went to a pisco vineyard and tried lots of pisco and found out about how it is made.

From here the next stop was Paracas, the setting of point for the Islas Ballestas/poor man’s Galapagos. We were desperately hoping to see blue footed boobies but alas no, need the real Galapagos for that. We did see many seals, sea lions and penguins though. We tried our first authentic Peruvian ceviche here as well, which was fresh and delicious, pleased we didn’t have it in Cusco. There was also a trip to Paracas nature reserve, where the desert meets the ocean and it was pretty spectacular.

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The final stopping point was hacienda San Jose; an old old family home which you can tour to suicide the history of slave trafficking and get an insight into rich Peruvian lives. It was really interesting and I even got to flex my Spanish muscles as I knew words or translator didn’t thanks to all our farm work!

Seven days later, many things seen, tour over, and we arrive in Lima, safe and sound.

Also, I lost my hat.

Machu Picchu

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It is rare that one day earned it’s own post, imagine the time we would need to do that!, but looking at photos of our visit to this Incan site I found I wouldn’t be able to contain them to a paragraph.
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To get there were arranged a transfer from Cusco to the hydroelectric station outside Santa Teresa, and then walked two hours along the train tracks to arrive at Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu pueblo as it is known. It’s not a great pace to spend your time. We had two nights there so we could do the whole trip in three days (journey there, whole day visit, journey back) and it was only bearable for the comfiest beds in Ecopackers hostel and a delicious meal at indio feliz. The prices are also crazy expensive (for Peru, not in general).
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We didn’t bother to walk up from the town to the site in the end, because egg fell in a hole in the NGO taxi garden and hurt his ankle and you have to do a lot of walking just at the top. We also didn’t bother to get there when it opened at six in the morning as we realised we wouldn’t really see the sunrise and wanted to have energy to stay until closing time. Early and later are better time to visit as the day trippers arrive mid morning and leave mid afternoon; by four we felt like we had the place to ourselves and just chilled out with the llamas.
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Options for visiting include climbing machu Picchu mountain or huayna Picchu mountain, or neither. Huayna Picchu sells out months in advance so with our last minute planning approach that was a no go, but for some reason very few people climb Machu Picchu so that was what we did.
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If we had thought about it at all then we both thought it was a casual stroll. It was not. As we started on the trail I asked egg where we were heading and he looked up and guessed the only peak we could see. On reflection we both decided this was waaaay too high and our destination must be hidden. We were wrong. We were some of the first people to reach the top of the unrelenting stair climb and enjoyed pretty peacefully the amazing views from the peak before slugging back down.
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(Incidentally, that really high mountain in the background, that’s the one we climbed)
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The whole place felt really atmospheric. No where near as many tourists crawling all over it as I’d been led to believe, and pretty darn spectacular. We just sat and looked at it from different angles. All the way up in the mountains, why would you ever build up that high!
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Cusco and NGO Taxi

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First stop in Peru was the historic, beautiful city of Cusco. We had a few days to explore before we relocated to the village of Tipon, around forty minutes from the centre and one mighty uncomfortable minibus ride back in.

Tipon is famous for its Guinea pig, which I tried and was just not worth the hassle; too little meat, too much staring into petrified rodent face. More importantly is it also the home of NGO Taxi, which is our most recent Workaway place. More accurately, it is the home of Yudy, a wonderfully awesome woman who accepted us into her beautiful house and made us feel at home.
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On our arrival at NGO Taxi we were, I must say, a little confused. We thought we were heading to a charity running volunteer placements and instead found two men, an idea, and not much more. Also, and this was the biggest stumbling block for me, it probably won’t ever be a charity, but a company.
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Not to dwell too much on the details, I can safely say we had a good, if quiet, three weeks, largely due to the constant cheery company of Chris, whose optimism is overwhelming, beautiful, sweet Yudy and the wonderful Yoel, whose delicious cooking I hope to replicate. Unfortunately we (which is obviously to say I) had our fair share of disagreements with the founders Stefan and Kristof, who are really passionate about, if not extremely good at coherently explaining, their dream. We were unexpectedly left alone a couple of times, time which I used to perfect my crochet (I now make socks too!), luckily after a run of constant traveling we were glad of some quiet time, but really we had signed up to be useful, not crochet! (NB egg does not crochet, only me). Hopefully we were helpful, and one day the organisation is up and running helping people.
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Other things about our time in Tipon; Noel and Leon and the puppies running around the garden, our second stay with no hot water and a return to bucket showers (plus my realisation that they are probably not better for the environment), many attempts at making a successful fire with wet logs, some furniture rearranging, delicious mate with herbs from the garden, a strange fire volcano and many really good night’s sleep.

Meanwhile, we were lucky to be in Cusco for Easter week, so we got to see the procession of the master of the earthquakes. This was pretty impressive.

We passed a delightful Easter weekend hiking up to the ruins in Tipon, and then watching the sound of music with homemade mug cake. Other social highlights include Tuesday night film nights in Cusco (a catalogue of ever more brilliant but depressing films), poker night and a lovely leaving meal.

Egg had mentioned that I need to say about coca brownies. He loves them. It became our Cusco treat, he even argued with the lady in the shop once for a bigger brownie. Coca is interesting actually. We went to the coca museum (and the cocoa museum!) and we chewed coca leaves (I dribble green and egg gets confused and eats them).

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