Cusco & the Rainbow Mountain, Peru.
We arrived in Cusco around midday, after a pleasant enough 17 hour journey from Ica/Huacachina. We traveled with Oltursa buses and the coach was new and clean with big business-class style seats and power outlets that actually worked. The wi-fi, though, was sporadic and it took about six hours to stream a one hour episode of The Wire.
In Cusco, we spent three nights at Atawkama hostel. It was fecking freezing at night as there was a big crack in the door to our room which led straight out to the courtyard. Temperatures dropped to about -5°C at night.
We spent the three days prior to the Inca Trail trek acclimatizing to the altitude and mooching about the main square and streets around it, getting a few photos and looking for (massively overpriced) outdoor equipment we needed for the trek.
We also did the Cusco Free Walking Tour, it wasn’t as fun as the one in Lima -the guide spent a long time talking about Inca-style bricks – but there was a cool part where you got to meet alpacas and see a traditional Qechua performance by an indigenous man.
We found a cheap place to eat amongst the overpriced tourist traps, but the service was so slow. It was 10 soles for a set menu however, and the restaurant, Yaku Mama, was close to the central square. Food was ok if you aren’t too picky.
One of our favourite places to eat in Cusco, however, was at cosy pizza place El Tabuco, where we had a tasty pizza and beers – a welcome change to the grilled meat, rice and chips set lunches.
We also ate at Los Perros which was expensive but was excellent food and it was good to get stuck into a curry!
On the third night at Atawkama, out Inca Trail guide, Rox, met with us to brief us on the next four days, walking the world famous trail to ‘new wonder of the world’ Machu Picchu (see separate blog post here – coming soon).
We weren’t sure how the food would be on the trek, so treated ourselves to a burger (Ashleigh) and Philly cheese steak sarnie (me) at Fuego, which was deeeeeecent.
After four days and three nights of rewarding hikes, tasty meals, camping in tents and hellishly early starts on the Inca Trail, we returned to Atawkama for the night and collapsed in a heap of mosquito bites and aching quads.
We’d done the hard work and were now ready to let our hair down, so we moved to party hostel Wild Rover, complete with Irish bar and ping pong table.
We spent 5 nights at Wild Rover in total and had a brilliant time. The staff (mainly Irish and Aussies) were good at getting everyone in the mood to drink and most nights we found ourselves drinking in the hostel bar, getting involved in drinking games (lowest score on the roll of the dice buys the shots), free shots and cheap happy hour deals – 2 x spirit and mixers for 7 soles (£1.80). I lost three hats there however. No idea how [cut to Aussie bloke walking around with my cap on].
On our first night at Wild Rover, we were joined by Gaby, Krystal, Rachel and Jessica – the girls from our group on the Inca Trail (the 7th group member, Monica, wasn’t able to make it). We all got smashed, I think we needed it after 4 days of trekking. Some of the girls had a flight first thing the next day, so not sure how that went…
Later in the week our mate that we’d met in Colombia, Mike, joined us at the hostel and we had a late one. I Think we were doing a tour of Cusco’s clubs until about 6am, after the hostel bar closed.
Between nights in the bar, we managed to do a few more touristy things, including the impressive Qorikancha monastery and the much-less impressive Inca Museum, which felt like a Year 8 school project.
We also spent days doing some shopping, I picked up a bag and chess set (Incas v Spanish) for a few quid.
The main square in Cusco was pretty – bar the Starbucks and KFC!
There were often local celebrations taking place – usually with a Wicker Man vibe…
On the second-to-last day in Cusco, we did a full day tour of the ‘Rainbow Mountain’.
Taking it’s name from the array of colours brought out from the minerals in the rock and pressure from underground, the Rainbow Mountain has only been a tourist attraction for a year or two, but has become really popular.
It was another early start, we were waiting for our pick-up from 3am in the hostel lobby, and they didn’t turn up until about 4.15am! So annoying. Another lad, who was waiting for his (different) group to collect him, ended up paying our guide to take him, despite having already paid his tour company. He thought is was worth it to not have to wait any longer.
After about a 3.5hr bus ride, we arrived at a small mountainside village littered with tourists and alpacas! We had a quick breakfast and then headed off on the 8km path to the Rainbow Mountain. It was cool to see how the mountain people lived at such extreme altitudes, living off the land and dependent on llamas/alpacas for food and warmth, and coca leaves for dealing with the altitude.
The first part of the hike was okay for Ashleigh and I, having got in some practice on the Inca Trail. Some of the group members, however, chose to pay for a horse to ride at the earliest opportunity. Fair enough, it was tricky to breathe the higher we went.
The views, even before we reached the rainbow mountain, were really impressive and we made friends with local kids along the way.
I kept trying to speak indigenous language Qechua with the locals, but I think they barely understood what I was on about.
The higher we climbed, the tougher it got. For the first time I was beginning to feel the effects of the extreme altitudes – dizzy with a headache.
Ashleigh fared better and we ploughed on. We were towards the front of the group.
Eventually we reached the final, steepest part of the trail. Step by step, slowly and stopping for water every twenty metres or so, we made it to the rainbow mountain and the awesome views.
It was a hard walk, 8km there and 8km more to do on the way back.
The view was impressive but it was much more rushed and less rewarding than the days on the Inca Trail. Really tough too, with altitudes exceeding 5035m (16,520ft)! That’s over three and a half times the height of the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis (1345m).
The guide was a proper knob and really useless. Nobody had a clue what he was saying, and so we didn’t understand much about the significance of the mountain to the Qechua people. After getting lots of photos, we set off back the way we came on the 2hr, 8km trek back to the base where we had a decent lunch.
The journey back to Cusco took more like 4hrs and the guides were pretty unhelpful, not letting us out of the sweaty bus on request in Cusco. Eventually we managed to jump off the bus (Ashleigh had to pretend she felt sick to get them to stop though) and we went to eat at a brilliant chicken restaurant called Los Toldos Chicken. There, the chickens are spit roasted over eucalyptus wood and served as quarter, half or whole with chips and salad – that you help yourself to. Really good chicken. Miss it.
Once we got back to the Wild Rover, we had a beer before soon passing out, knackered after a long day and 16km at 5000m!
The next day we mooched about a bit more before getting a night bus to Arequipa, the ‘White City’.