13.03.2014 - 01.05.2014
It took 3 full days and nights of buses and trains to get from Rio back to La Paz for our new bartending careers. It was pretty hassle free except the border where we were dumped off the bus - we thought we were meant to be taken all the way to Puerto Suarez but this was not the case. It was so humid, then it started raining as we were running back and forth between the 2 borders soaking us but finally we found out where we were and how to get to Santa Cruz. The taxi driver was soooo helpful and as we had 15 minutes before the train departed he flew along those streets and then ran ahead to sort our tickets as we unloaded our bags. The train was apparently the safer option as the roads wind through jungles and farms and it is common for animals to jump out onto the road and cause accidents. As soon as we heard it was $16 for a 19 hour air conditioned train ride we were happy to be back in Bolivia and happy to understand people again. We were lucky to get our bus from Santa Cruz to La Paz after somehow we all 'heard' the man say 3pm (it was about 8:30am when we arrived) so we settled in for a long day at the terminal until 8:50am the ticket man, very panicked, managed to find us and tell us the bus was waiting for us....so apparently our Spanish is not all that we had hoped.
The main rule during the job intro was 'Everyone gets 1 chance at being sent to bed early'. I...I mean, 'Madonna', would later find out more about this. So for this month we had plenty of fun, toga nights, anything bus clothes, mexican nights, jenga tournaments, beer pong, zombie nights, karaoke, St Patricks Day, Rock Star night...kind of just a month long Halloween. It was pretty much as fun working as not. Staff meetings were very serious and involved discussing bar dancing - remove glasses and if someone looks too drunk get them down. Having been on the receiving end of a person falling off the bar onto me, I know that hurts. When the daily nosebleeds and crusty eyes healed (I think as the air can be so dry in La Paz), it was then a throat and tonsil infection, fever then a chest infection and so a trip to the medical clinic - which has an entire sign in book for this hostel's staff - was needed for me and one of my roomates. It was a nice bonding experience for us as after being sent around to a bunch of pharmacies and clinics having to byo medicine we were actually begging for the needle in the butt in the end. The worst part was them testing if you are allergic to the medicine and testing it on your EYEBALL!
We went to a soccer game between La Paz Strongest (the Tigres) and a Brazilian team. La Paz needed to win by 1 point to make it to the finals for the first time in 20 years so it was very exciting. We went with a couple of friends and her Dad. We bought 5cent polystyrene squares to take in as 'seats' and then entered through a path of very heavily armed police feeling like we were walking ourselves into a maximum security jail. It was a sell out of 35,000 and the crowd was a sea of black and gold. There were about 10 supporters of the Brazilian team in a top corner section surrounded by security. We didn't go to the fan club section as stabbings are regular, of course. The crowd was a constant chorus of songs and waves and flags the size of half the stadium. La Paz won and the dad - by day a politican - went crazy and honked his horn through crowds the whole way home, hanging a scarf out the window, cranked the replay of the game up on the radio and yelled at the police 'I KNOW MY RIGHTS' when they tried to stop him driving down a certain road full of crowds. It was great fun! We were happy to be accepted as fans of the Tigres as apparently the fans of the other La Paz team are widely know to be ugly.
The hostel was tipped off that police were raiding all the hostels in La Paz. On 'gender bender' night we watched from the bar windows as police swarmed the streets below and expected this was the night and god it would have been funny as every manager in the hostel was wearing a dress and make up. Well, at least the boys were.
A few of us went quadbiking one day to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Sol about 30 minutes out of the city and this area was so beautiful. For me it was more like a sightseeing tour as I felt in no condition to operate my own vehicle. After the previous nights' antics, it was a miracle we all made it. We hadn't brought licenses so had to pay the police off at each checkpoint. About $1 a pop. We had already paid for the tour so when we pulled up along the main street a bit late and had quadbikes racing along beside us calling out to us we assumed this was the company we had booked with so got out of the taxi and followed them to an office. All 4 of us equally as terrible at Spanish it took us about 10 minutes to realise this was another company who now wanted us to pay for their tour...we managed to get out of this and about 20m away was our company. We were FILTHY by the end of the day. I loved La Paz just as much this time around, it's grittyness, smells, and noises. Many mornings we would be woken by a parade marching by, or a wedding along the streets, or a car alarm...there is dress-up lane where a whole street is lined by shops full of bizarre outfits and 'sexy'alley as we called it, the traffic zebras, the merry-go-round which was a round platform with some plastic cars stuck on top that a someone would stand there and spin by hand, the homeless man who would always yell at us and we never knew why, and then really nice people who would just stop us and invite us to a party or gathering of some sort. And then Prince, the taxi driver who upon finding out it was our last night gave us his card for any 'party' needs. A proud moment in my life is a girl having my name tattoo'd on her butt cheek...best $10 ever spent.
We actually managed to leave La Paz - despite many predicting we wouldn't as is often the case here - and headed to Cuzco in Peru. Cuzco or Cusco (never did find out the difference or which name to use) is a really pretty city. It is pretty laid back, gorgeous at night, many plazas and parks and has a chocolate museum which we frequented. Every 2nd building is a laundromat. We met H's friend J who had flown from the USA to do the trek to Machu Picchu with us. We chose the 5 day Salkantay trek, being the avid hikers we are, but it was not a good idea to spend the night before the trek with a bunch of friends we had met at other points on our trip and get to bed at 2:30 before the 4:30 pick up at the hostel. Note to self: redbull does not give you wings the day after drinking it with vodka.
We started the trek at the small town of Mollepata a couple of hours from the city, walking up a muddy track for about an hour I was already on struggle street. Then we entered the luscious green mountainous region and the track wound around hills and down into valleys, it was beautiful. We walked 21km over 7 hours this day and as we rounded the last bend and snowy Salkantay appeared between 2 other mountains it was really something special. Our camp was in the shadow of these mountains on a farm and we arrived just in time for hot chocolates as the sun set. We sat around camp for a while comparing blisters and checking out the billions of stars and then rugged up for an early nights' sleep.
4:30am each morning we heard tapping on our tent flaps and 'Coca tea amigas, Amigas, coca tea' (by day 3 we were turning down the coca tea for an extra 30 minutes sleep. Day 2 is the hardest day of the trek as it is very steep and gets up to 4600m asl...so I took the option of riding a horse for the most difficult part as I wasn't 100% whether the struggle of the day before was due to my lack of fitness or the hangover. Better to be safe than sorry. It was really nice, starting the day off through the rocky valley following rivers and then beginning the incline to Salkantay. My horse, Hermiosa, was at the front of the group being led by one of the farmers, Elvis (I suspect a fake name as many people over here tell foreigners to make it easier) so I was quite comfortable with that until he gave me the reins and when I asked why her ears were covered with a bandana and was told it is because she is a nervous horse, I became a nervous human. They are taught to walk on the edge of the mountain so hikers can pass mountain-side so that was relaxing with all those steep cliff edges! After 4 hours we were finally at the 4600m point next to Salkantay just in time to witness an avalanche, the crackling thunderous sound awesome. We were told that Quechua people would cry at this as it was a part of the mountain dying - the mountains are worshipped by them as they provide everything they need in life. We had a ceremony for Pachamama (Mother Earth) up there and offered rocks we had brought from down the bottom of the mountain and coca leaves - only the best ones. By this point the horses turned back and the remaining 3 hours were pretty flat and downhill, through rocky, burnt yellow terrain, cloudforests, forests, rivers and then it started pouring as we huddled under a tiny shelter for lunch in a one family village and an hour was spent trying to balance going down steep hills of mud and poo. It was hard to dress appropriately as throughout each day we would climb or decline so much that it would go from being freezing to hot and humid. My ears blistered. Camp night 2 was on the property of a small community of 4-6 families - but had a hot shower for 10 soles.
Day 3 was through the lower rainforests, stopping and having lunch surrounded by pigs, chickens and dogs. We had the option to walk along a road for a shorter, easier trek or through the rainforest which we chose as it woud be a prettier walk. It was tough but well worth it, trying new fruits like granadinas along the way, sometimes walking on the rivers edge other times deep into the forest, swatting away bugs. This day covered 14km over 5 hours as we finished along the river to soak our feet in the coooool water and then got a van to the town of Santa Teresa where we would camp on the grounds of a hostel. We were there early enough to go to the local hot springs, surrounded by green mountains it was very relaxing and we felt a lot cleaner afterwards. We had a bonfire night at the hostel which was really fun, ended up just H and I dancing around the fire with Edwin, our guide, and a few other guides who were waaaaasted! It started absolutely pouring and so Edwin offered us the spare bed in their room which was nice for about 20 minutes knowing the others were suffering in the damp tents until one drunk guide was a little bit too annoying and we decided to join the rest of the plebs in the damp tents.
We went zipling the next morning across valleys - those who didn't would have to hike an extra few hours. No thanks. It was scary at first as we were in charge of breaking ourselves whereas last time there was someone else who would stop you at the end. Much prefer having no responsibility over my own safety. But it was fun by the 5th line and then the hanging bridge over the forest at the end. We then spend 4 hours walking another 14km along the train tracks through rainforest and finally spotted Machu Picchu mountain from behind and could just see the tips of some of the walls of the ruins at the very top and the original Inca path winding around the mountain. I can't explain the excitement upon sighting this for the first time, it really hit that we were about to see something so magical. This was a really nice day, very pretty walk and pretty relaxing especially since I splurged and threw my pack on the train to give my back a rest. We arrived at Aguas Calientes town at night, exhausted and at the sight of our beds barely wanted to go out for the group dinner.
At 4am on day 5 we began the final part of the trek - 1700 stairs remained between us and Machu Picchu. Through the morning fog and then rain we hiked up, the only thing that kept me moving faster than a snail was wanting it all to be over! It was bloody hard work! As the sun came up the surrounding mountains appeared through the forest and it was very very beautiful. We met up with the rest of the group at the entrance once we had made it and then stepped out to the ruin and......SAW NOTHING! The fog was soooo thick, it was rainy, and I won't lie - there was a tinge of disappointment thinking it may not clear. Edwin took us around the ruins and explained some facts to us but still we couldn't get the full view of it. 75% is in original condition which is quite amazing considering it is from the 15th Century...until the Spanish came and killed the poor Inca's. The ruins, some still covered by thick vegetation, include built-in observatories to see the seasons for particular crops, sundials, ceremonial sites, plazas, homes and palaces. The architecture is unbelievable considering it is from so long ago, all buildings are in a slight trapzium shape as the area commonly experiences earthquakes. The stones are fit so perfectly together that without any mortar having been used a knife still could not penetrate the cracks.
After the tour we all said farewells and continued walking around before it started raining. In the end, only 6 of us stayed around for about 5 or 6 hours until the rain stopped. No way I was leaving without a proper view. 4 of us huddled under a rock and jumped out whenever the clouds lifted to take a few photos, but when they finally lifted for good - WOW! My heart missed a beat, I couldn't believe I was there! It is like being IN a postcard. There are more than 700 terraces covered in bright green grass (and llamas) growing on soil transported here by the Inca's...I don't even know how to describe it all so I will just attach photos. All I can say is that it has to be on everyone's bucket list to visit Machu Picchu (hey, take the bus and train - those people at least looked really nice for their photos). The weather actually turned out to be in our favour as it did eventually clear and only meant there were way less people as many had gone back to Aguas Calientes earlier in the day. So we were able to sit completely alone in corner of the ruins overlooking the mountains and the river and traintracks we had followed to get there, 600m below. A still unbelievable experience, and I'm sure one day it will really sink in. After a few hours taking in the views, we got the bus back to Aguas (no need to take the stairs DOWN too) and then the train back to Cusco for a good nights sleep!
Back in Cusco for a few more days, we had some really nice dinners - plenty of cocktails, seafood and some alpaca and then tried cuy...guinea pig. We did this at a really nice restaurant rather than picking our own from a cage and having it roasted on a spit like at the markets so ours came with just one little stub leg as a reminder of what it once was. Still, it was not easy for me to get down as I just thought of my beloved Honey I had growing up. Awww.
H and I headed out for a day in the city, discussing how much we were looking forward to a day walking about until we were handed a brochure for an open top bus tour and before we knew it were riding around on that...really how we prefer to sightsee. Rapido. It took us up to Cristo Blanco - a smaller version of the Rio statue - overlooking the city, the Saqsaywaman Ruins (yep, pronounced 'sexy woman' which was a little bit confusing for us hearing about it over and over for the first half of the tour until we got there and saw the sign) also from the Machu Picchu era and a few other nice viewpoints. We did plenty of shopping and basically just enjoyed walking around such a pleasant town.