South America on a shoestring

Travel time: June - December 2004  |  by Rob W.

Backpacking in South America then 5 months at uni in Brazil, despite the fact I don't yet speak Portuguese. Bum.

And so it begins.... Cuzco and Machu Picchu

Cuzco June 13 - 18

Peru would be the first destination on my 6 week trip, en route to Florianopolis in Brazil. I consider myself well travelled and sociable, and thought that it was about time to go backpacking alone. I had done a 6 month round the world trip alone in 2001 but had planned it to coincide with friend's trips so never spent more than a day or two truly alone. Peru was to prove a bit of a shock.

I flew to Lima via Dallas Fort Worth from London Gatwick. After crashing on the floor at Lima airport I got the first flight of the morning down to Cuzco, having heard that the Peruvian capital is not the best place to visit. I had a rough plan of how I wanted to spend the next 6 weeks, but nothing was set in stone. I was hoping to meet someone and tag along with them I suppose, but Cuzco turned out to be a difficult place to hook up with other travellers. The city itself is beautiful, really stunning. Set in the mountains it's not the easiest place to arrive in as it's at high altitude, but I was lucky not to be bothered by altitude sickness. I stayed at Hostal Marani which was nice, if overpriced at USD16 a night for a single. I had planned to move to a cheaper hostel after a day and just use Marani to get over my jet lag in comfort. As I settled into the budgeting side of things USD16 started to seem like a hell of a lot!

I spent a day buggaring about in the city, and was quickly a bit bored, having spent enough alone time already on my 3 flights from London! The ruins on the hill (Sacsayhuaman) are worth a visit, but apart from that it's a city to wander around and admire in general rather than having sites as such. One thing stood out for me about Cuzco... where the fuck were the locals? I thought it was pretty rare to see a Peruvian in Cuzco who wasn't serving you something, and that's quite sad. The town seemed to be functioning purely on tourism and as such lacked much soul.

Having seen what Cuzco had to offer, and frozen my arse off at night, I headed up to Machu Picchu. My inherent failure to plan anything in advance left me with the train as the only option (although as someone pointed out, if you say "I did the Inca Train" quickly enough it can easily be mistaken for Inca Trail, thus making you seem less rubbish). I decided to stay a night in Aguas Calientes and thus have 2 days to explore the ruins. I still can't decide if this was a good idea. It sounds a bit sacriligious to say it, but MP just wasn't that great... it seemed kind of, well, small. I think having been spoilt by visiting a deserted Angkor Wat last year during the SARS epidemic I was expecting something more from the lost city of the Incas. Don't get me wrong the setting is spectacular and I enjoyed wandering around the ruins, but that's exactly what they are. They're a pile of rocks that are not very intact,and are actually only 500 years old. And try as I might I couldn't help but compare them to Angkor and be disappointed. Staying over night in Aguas does mean that you get the place to yourself in the evening though after the American and Japanese package lot have all gone to get the train back to Cuzco. With the sun going down and the city empty it was a much more powerful sight. I should also mention that I climbed Huayna Picchu and it nearly killed me. I also overheard a Frenchman and an Israeli discussing their hatred for the British at the top in French. Now who said a languages degree isn't useful? Plus I'll be able to make those announcements on cross channel ferries! Bonus!

On my return to Cuzco I knew it was time to move on, and picked Arequipa to be my next destination. However before I could travel there was the important matter of the England v Switzerland Euro 2004 game to take care of in Cuzco. I woke up early to get a good seat at Paddy Flaherty's Irish bar just off the Plaza (it does awesome steak sandwiches too), and by 10.30am had a beer in my hand. Never good. I also met a good lad called Andy from Ipswich (poor bastard) to chat to during the game, and thus had my first sustained conversation since arriving in Peru. Thank God. England won the game 3-0 and finding myself half cut at midday there was only one solution... drink through. I made a futile attempt at breaking up the boozing around 3pm to go down to the bus station and buy a ticket to Arequipa, but instead found myself in a different bar drinking with a slightly weird Canadian who was into coke and local whores. I'm not into either by the way. By the time I met Andy back in the Irish bar later on I was pretty pissed, and had an American girl come up to me about midnight to say she'd heard a rumour that I'd been there all day. She wants to see a proper piss-up Nottingham style, this was nothing! I woke up with a mean hangover and spent the day nursing it as I waited for a night bus to Arequipa Night buses mean a lot of waiting around during the day, having checked out of the hostel, and as such the consumption of wank loads of Sprite and coffee is usually called for. Especially on a hangover day. For the first time Cuzco seemed to come to life as it prepared for the big local festival Inti Raymi, and shit loads of people paraded around the square. I sat and watched with a non-alcoholic beverage and chatted to an interesting and slightly sexy older English woman, who claimed that travelling was a bit like Big Brother... having to spend time with people you don't really know and might not have otherwise spent time with. So far I'd not spent time with many people at all, and it was starting to grate on me. I was hoping for better things from Arequipa.

CUZCO - The good:

  • Paddy Flaherty's Irish bar

  • People watching from a balcony on Plaza de Armas

  • Beautifully sunny days

  • Cuzquena beer

CUZCO - The bad:

  • Cold, cold nights

  • Overpriced

  • Lack of local atmosphere

  • Too many couples - who wants to make friends with honeymooners??!

  • The cathedral

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco. Grab a beer and sit on one of the balconies, but make sure you´re on the sunny side or it´s bloody cold!

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco. Grab a beer and sit on one of the balconies, but make sure you´re on the sunny side or it´s bloody cold!

© Rob W., 2004
You are here : Overview The Americas Peru Peru: And so it begins.... Cuzco and Machu Picchu
The trip
Start of journey: Jun 12, 2004
Duration: 6 months
End of journey: Dec 24, 2004
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Rob W. is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.