Deepest Darkest Peru

We get back on the chicken buses this week for a journey into the mountains in search of Machu Picchu.

We are in Peru for another week or so but it feels like we are leaving now as the next main stops will be the much more westernised tourist hotspots of Cusco and Puno. However, before then we have to tackle the Andes.
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Google maps tells you traveling from Huancayo to Cusco only takes ten hours tops. Ha! That may be true if you’re a condor but by bus it’s three days of ten or twelve hour grinding roller coasters along mountain passes above four thousand meters. The views are said to be spectacular if mildly terrifying, and more than make up for the leg cramp and vertigo. Hopefully the buses will be able to cling onto the single track dirt road and stay in one piece long enough for us to reach Cusco with our sanity intact.

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After one month in an apartment it will be a shock to be living out of a bag again and navigating random accommodation in new places every couple of days. We will also be rejoining the well worn gringo trail from Peru into Bolivia – meaning it will also be a culture change from the very Peruvian workaday world of Huancayo.

So, as we begin the transition out of Peru here are a few random observations from our time in the land of pan pipes and ponchos.

People are tough – especially the women.

One of the most common sights in towns, villages, buses or the vertical side of a mountain is women carrying a baby on their back as well as a sack of potatoes, whilst they plough the field, herd llamas, skin a guinea pig and knit all at the same time. They are tough.

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All over the world women are always the ones carrying the water for the whole family whilst the husband drinks and smokes with his friends but here they seem to have an extra toughness, it’s like the mountain rock has infused their DNA with added grit.

The kids here grow up in a really tough environment and whilst UK kids might wince when their Xbox character gets a graze in Peru they are more… Robust. One afternoon, whilst helping out at the street children project, we were using glove puppets to tell stories. The kids got very excited when they got to use puppets themselves. It was fun chaos and in amongst it I saw a boy about twelve years old get carried away with his glove puppet and punch a tiny girl full on in the face. Without missing a beat she just jabbed him squarely on the nose and they all carried on playing and laughing. If the kid had hit me in the same way I probably would have been floored and needed air lifting to safety!

Such bad coffee and chocolate

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For a country supposedly rich with coffee and cocoa plants it’s pretty much impossible to get a decent cup of coffee or a bar of chocolate that doesn’t taste like feet. It was the same in Ecuador – and that has even more of the fresh stuff. I guess it just all gets bought up by Starbucks and Nestlé and whilst tourist centres like cusco may have lots of cool cafés with great coffee, outside of there it’s nowhere. Locals don’t seem to touch the stuff, instead preferring chicha – a sweet purple drink made from maize usually sold in reused water bottles by ancient women on the road side – a very acquired taste. Chocolate just doesn’t feature at all and when it does it’s worse than that gritty chocolate in advent calendars from Bradford market I had as a kid. Ironically I’ll probably have to go to an organic whole food shop in the UK to get some proper South American chocolate.

Ice cream addicts

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What Peruvians (and ecuadorians) lack in coffee and chocolate they more than make up for in ice cream. They are mad for it. Every street corner has someone selling cones and multicoloured ices from a push trolley. We passed through a small town that was maybe home to 2,000 people and yet it had, without exaggeration, 20 or 30 ice cream shops within a couple of blocks. Ice creams are not just for kids either. Walking through town it’s not uncommon to see a pack of rotund besuited business men strolling along with ice pops at lunchtime. It’s kind of fun but it doesn’t make up for bad chocolate for me.

Dogs and more dogs
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Most countries we’ve visited seem to be part owned by masses of dogs that roam the streets and pass out in the sun. Peru is no different except the variety and the big packs. In other countries street dogs all seem to be of a similar type and usually fairly solitary. In India they were pointy nosed yellow eyed scavengers , in Vietnam they were small fuzzy yelpers. In Peru, everyone’s welcome. From massive Rottweiler monsters to tiny curly haired poodles there are huge multicultural packs roaming all over. One day we inadvertently became part of a pack as we walked to the market. Just us and fifteen random dogs strutting down the street. It was a bit like west side story meets Up with a chance of rabies. Until we reached the chicken section of the market and they abandoned us for a better offer.

Panpipes
They really are everywhere. But so too is ‘more than words’ by extreme, One direction and Toto…

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