Belated postcards from Peru, featuring the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Belated postcards from Peru, featuring the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Many people have asked me which is my favourite place on this trip, and believe me it is very difficult to pinpoint one! The emotions, encounters and weather at that place at a particular time or season also affects the entire experience. So how about I give it a go with “Great Experiences” instead? And this time, with photos.
In no particular order:
There may be a bit of bias with this choice since the Galapagos had been my dream islands for years. But many people whom I later met and who had also been there couldn’t get enough of it either, so I really don’t think I’m over-hyping this. Apart from being pampered on a relaxing cruise and visiting pristine islands where animals frolick about in their daily activities oblivious to the snap-happy human visitors, the climate was another surprising factor: not too hot and not too cold in July. The scenery was also more beautiful than I had expected.
It would be a mistake just to use mainland Ecuador as a hop-over point to the Galapagos: Ecuador is a beautiful country with warm & friendly people and relatively good infrastructure. As a visitor, the biggest observation is how family-oriented Ecuadorians are. I did not encounter any difficulty at all travelling solo in Ecuador.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest in the world and is prime spot for star gazing, both for professional astronomers and amateurs. You could see the Desert from the bus on the way from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama (San Pedro). I loved how San Pedro itself does not have paved roads, preserves the older adobe houses made of mud & cactus branch with little roofing and only minimal street lights at night. During the day, the town itself is a base for venturing into the outlying natural wonders and those that I’ve visited include: Valle de la Luna, Valle de Muerte, Piedra del Coyote, the Altiplano lagoons, Salar de Atacama and El Tatio Geyser. At night, just lift up your head and you are treated to more spectacular wonders even with just the naked eye: the cloudless night sky is the perfect canvas for the milky way and the planets of the solar system.
Although San Pedro and the outlying sights are very popular with tourists, the town itself is still very laid-back and a nice place to relax and chill. One simply could not say the same of other popular tourists sites.
This region is one of the most visited places in Bolivia, and with good reason too. I went during dry season and the expanse of the salt flat’s whiteness stretches far beyond the horizon. You would think it is a snow-covered desert, except that if you lick the ground you will know it is not. This region is also rather close to Calama and San Pedro de Atacama of Chile, so there are some similarities in landscape, but there are simply no two identical lagoons, geysers, mountains or salt flats; both regions are rugged and dramatic in their own way. A lot of the sights on the Bolivian side are on higher altitude and are not accessible by paved roads, so travel by land-rovers/jeeps are absolutely necessary. Expect an adventure when in Bolivia; you won’t be disappointed.
Sadly too, the Bolivian side lacks proper management and the environment runs the risk of being overburdened. The social atmosphere of the region in the two countries is also very different and if you have the time to spare, you should still try to visit both. Money should no longer be an issue as you would have expended so much just to get this part of the world that in fact, it makes more sense to visit both. Border crossing by land from Bolivia to Chile and vice versa in this region is possible and can usually be done within half/1 day.
Secondary school level Geography hardly serves any practical purpose in most people’s adult life. But stripped of all the dry facts that one is forced to commit to memory for exams are glimpses into age-old, far-flung, exotic places that are nature’s greatest gifts. Even though Geography text books then hardly came with much photos, learning about the Andean range left a deep imprint in this ex-school girl’s mind.
While it is a lot cheaper to travel in South America by bus (especially if you have the time to spare), I would certainly recommend flying some legs. Conveniently, my round-the-world ticket allowed me to fly quite a few segments in South America, and the domestic flights in some countries are very reasonably-priced. The view over the jagged peaks of the Andes – the spine of South America that stretches from the south in Chile all the way to the north in Columbia & Venezuela – evokes a sense of humbled awe, high-spirited imagination or just simply more wonderful day dreams.
Scotland itself has so much to offer, so justifiably I should have a sub-category of “great experiences”! It is one of the few places on this trip that I would like to visit again, not least because it is closer (more or less 13 hours flight), but also because there are other parts of Scotland that I’ve yet to explore.
On this trip, I would say some of the best moments are:
(1) Walking through glens and along the lochs and simply just enjoying the fresh air & scents from trees & flowers.
(2) Rocky boat ride to Islet of Staffa – Fingal’s Cave. It was costly to travel to Staffa, but the sight of the hexagonal basalt columns rising vertically out of the emerald waters is worth it. And dolphins somehow never fail to cheer people up even in bad weather. Would have loved to spend more time on the islet if the weather had permitted. Not the season for puffins-sighting, but was already very contented with the visit.
(3) Driving around & exploring Isle of Skye. Skye is rated by National Geographic as one of the best islands in the world for sustainable tourism. Do not expect resorts a la Banyan Tree style – this does not Skye maketh. Instead, look forward to rugged dramatic natural beauty.
and last but not least,
(4) Chatting with friendly down-to-earth Scots!
Of course, this list of “Great Experiences” is non-exhaustive. The list of wonderful places that I have been to on this 4-month trip goes on, including the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, Lake Titicaca in both Peru & Bolivia, the great Machu Picchu as well as all the people I’ve met who made up the entire experience.
Till the next trip. Right now, my heart is warm & contented.
May I wish everyone of you find and pursue your dream adventures. Happy travels!
Happy birthday, Singapore!
Oh by the way, today I flew from Antofagasta to Santiago, where I now wait for the flight to Madrid.
Outside the embarkation lounge, the pink hues of the setting sun is reflecting brilliantly off the snow-capped mountains.
Fare thee well, oh mighty Andes, I had the pleasure of seeing your many faces, ranging through four different countries. Hope to see you again, soon.
Took the 730am bus from Peru to Copacabana. Nothing particularly eventful during the bus trip although I was uncertain what would happened at the border crossing, even though I don’t hold a US passport. I already had my visa, but was wondering whether the Bolivian immigration will still ask for money nonetheless (which apparently is asked of US passport holders).
Turns out my worry was for nothing although the guy at the immigration read every word on the visa, as if reading one for the first time. My bus seatmate thought the immigration guy was giving me problems but I am quite used to people not being very familiar with my passport.
Reached Copacabana without a hotel booking, and randomly chose one that was going for US$10 per night. Spent the whole afternoon walking down the hills and strolling down the beach and had the typical trucha a la plancha (grilled trout) for lunch. This is my third trout in a week!
The beach – that is, if you can call the sandy area by a lake that – is lined with eateries, and parked with – horrors of horrors – swan boats! Haven’t seen those since the last time I was at Genting Highlands. Apart from that, Copacabana feels like the mediterrenean (excluding the night chill), as one tourist commented.
Nothing happening much in the afternoon, except that there was wedding celebration happening by the beach, with party guests dancing to live band and vocals. Sat in the sun and ogled at the private party.
Walked around the tiny town and came across its most magnificent building, the cathedral with moorish design. Copacabana is most famous for the statue of the virgin housed in this cathedral, drawing tonnes of visitors during pilgrammage season. Apparently the more famous Copacabana in Brazil is named after this tiny sleepy town because of its religious significance.
In front of the cathedral, are lined with cars adorned with flowers (I read somewhere this is to bless new cars), and stalls selling religious paraphernelia.
Also walked around the market and bought giant popcorns and porotos tostados (toasted beans), typical local snacks.
After walking around so much – very slowly – and burning some time at an internet cafe (don’t have high expectations of speed in this small town, nor cheap internet for that matter. It’s 10Bs per hour which is about US$1.20! So far, have not had to pay more than US$0.80 per hour during my trip), I still had time to kill. Decided to tackle the Cerro Calvario, or Calvary Hill, where the pilgrims would normally go. It’s a steep climb and isn’t easier at this altitude, but after passing many crosses, finally I reached the top, at 3,966m above sea level!
From up here, far away from the dust, Copacabana is really lovely, with the glowing sun shining strong, about to set against the horizon of the vast Titicaca lake. And in the opposite direction, the full moon is reflected in full bloom. With a wonderful view like this, no wonder the ancient people revered the sun and moon, and hence two islands on Titicaca lake called Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna.
Am quite glad that I decided to take it easy and stay in Copacabana instead of rushing off to tour the islands.
Joined a tour to two islands on the Peruvian side of Lago Titicaca, which is the most economical way of visiting these islands.
The first was the floating island of Uros. This is a man-made island, made of mud base tied together and stacked with layers of reeds, inhabited by the pre-Incan community of the Aymara tribe. Today it is rather touristy, but how else would you get to see such a unique style of mobile living or architecture? It was sunny day but a crisp morning, with the frost on the reeds still crystal-solid.
Thereafter it was a 2 and a half hour cruise to Taquile, where we hiked up the hilly island, here at an altitude of about 3800m under strong sun, so be sure to take it easy. The view from above is gorgeous, almost as if you were standing on a dry oasis amidst the deep blue waters.
Also met two very nice Puerto Ricans who were on the same bus as I was from Cusco yesterday and some Chinese people, and it was fun to converse in 3 different languages, which made the return trip very pleasant.
We were back on land by nightfall, and this being my last night in Peru, I was determined to try cuy (guinea pig).
And I did!
It’s a 6-hour bus ride from Cusco to Puno on a normal bus, so I decided to pay a bit more for a tourist bus that includes stops at several sights along the way plus lunch.
As the bus tumbled out of Cusco, we passed by remains of the ancient “gate” to Cusco, somewhat like customs and border control in the old days.
The first stop is at Andahuaylillas, where we see a church that is typical of the Andean region, incorporating both Andean beliefs (the sun symbol sits high above the cross), European renaissance and – you have to see this to believe this – an 8-point star that is symbolic of Islam. Apparently the deisgn of the church also reflects the style that is “popular” at that time in Europe (think the period during which the Moors conquered Spain). The name of the church is Iglesia de San Pedro y San Pablo.
The next stop was an Incan archaeological site called Raqchi, which was the temple of worship for the Incan “gods of the gods”, Wiracocha. Given the importance of this god, the obvious question then was why is the temple built so far away (about 118km) from Cusco, which was the centre of the Incan empire? Apparently, different people of different social status worshipped different gods, and only the elite class “knew” of the existence of this god, and hence the temple’s isolation from the general population.
After lunch, there is a stop at La Raya which is about 4335 meters above sea level, for a view of the snow-covered mountains.
The final stop was at a rather interesting town called Pukara. Interesting firstly for being the cradle of south Peru’s first civilisation, dating back to 1600 b.c., with an archaeological exacation site nearby, although we were only permitted to visit the museum. Another thing it is famous for today is the ceramic twin bulls found on roof tops, for celebrating the completed construction of a house.
The bus also passed by the very industrial Juliaca. Tuk tuks are are common in this part of the world, although I forgot what it is called locally. Interesting too that – if I heard correctly – the guide introduced the principal activity of Juliaca as smuggling.
Finally, the bus rolled down the hills into Puno, which could be easily mistaken for a seaside town (although a somewhat dry and dusty one), sitting squarely by the vast blueness of Titicaca lake, purportedly the world’s highest navigable lake.
Had a typical Peruvian soup dish – Criolla – (which is angel hair pasta in milk broth with an egg) for dinner and called it a day.
When I first got to Cusco, I couldn’t wait to leave. Due to a series of events (see earlier blog), I had to stay in Cusco longer than intended.
Took a friend’s suggestion and spent a good part of the day walking on the outskirts of the city centre, on the hills. Cusco is definitely more pleasant from up here. Sat under an umbrella sipping coca tea and had a pleasant chat with two Germans, who also suggested a further walk up the hill to where the Christ statue was. So walked further up, passing through dry patches and alpaca poo… and then started sneezing non-stop! Am I allergic to alpaca poo? But the view from up there is beautiful and far away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Walked a bit more and then descended through a series of staircases, passing by a hardcourt where kids play street soccer and numerous houses. And that’s how people commute everyday: walking these stairs at about 3200m above sea level.