To start with, I have nothing against South American countries in general. I may have bagged Chile a few times in the past but frankly, Peru just takes the cake. Excuse me while I whinge…
Let me first describe our first impressions of Peru before I get down to the downright ugly. Tourism. Tourism. Tourism. It seems that every corner you turn there is a tourist being scammed or ripped off. We set off from Copacabana in Bolivia on Lake Titicaca and it wasn’t long before we hit the border and got screwed by exchange rates. Ok, so we only changed 6 Bolivianos (US$1) but the guy didn’t even bother giving me the whole amount that he showed me on the calculator. So I let it go because I didn’t really care – I’m simply trying to paint you a picture
So anyway, as we were driving past the Lake to Puno, we suddenly stop and change from a reasonable bus to a crappy bus in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t really a problem either. It’s just that they advertise the type of bus you will get on at the booth where you buy the ticket in Bolivia. Nice.
So we get to Puno, have some lunch and get on a bus to Arequipa. Everyone had told us the drive is 4 hours. 6 hours later we arrive in Arequipa. We’re still tolerant at this point and we jump in a taxi and pay 4 soles to get to the hostel. Only to find out later we shouldn’t pay more than 3! Ok, so gringo tax was clearly excluded. No worries.
Now our hostel was brilliant (Arequipay Backpackers). Lovely, clean, spacious and a really friendly host. We were pretty beat, so we headed to the supermarket to cook ourselves a yummy stir-fry (home cooked food is a delicacy you know) before calling it a night.
Next day we were up and booking our trip to Galapagos, only to find it was Sunday and there wasn’t much to be done! We went out to eat pad thai (recommended by other travelers), only to find not a single taxi driver would take us there! Not even when we showed them a map of where it was! So we ended up walking there ourselves. Ok fine. The meal was great after all but we weren’t going to risk another rejection from a taxi driver, so we walked all the way back again. We walked around the city for a bit, checking out the sights and beautiful architecture before going back to the hostel. Along the way, Ben was craving a cold coke, but do you think he could find one? Nope. Non existent. He said one coke he had almost gave him third degree burns it was so hot. Hehe.
In all honesty, we were starting to get a bit sick of Peru and my severe lack of Spanish was starting to get very tiring (many people over here are not overly forgiving either). After everywhere we had been, this seemed like the biggest tourist haven and just a plain rip off for travelers. So we decided to cut colca canyon and get the hell out of South America in a hurry. So we made our plans and stuck to our guns. We were off to Cuzco the following day to see Machu Picchu as we couldn’t justify going to Peru and not visiting it.
Just when you think you can’t get screwed more… enter PeruRail. We took an overnight bus to Cuzco and although the buses aren’t the same as Chile or Argentina (come to think of it, Bolivia as well), it wasn’t too bad. Except for the 40 degree temperature inside, that is. But we arrive at 5.30am and then get screwed by a taxi driver who took us to the train station. Firstly, he took us to the wrong station. Secondly, he charged us too much.
So we lined up outside waiting for the station to open at 7am. And how nice the locals were who pushed in front of us instead of lining up. 7am and the doors opened. We got a ticket and sat down to wait for our number to be called. 7.20am and number 5 gets called out. We watch as 2 separate women push in front and just go to counters instead of waiting for their numbers to be called. Getting pretty unhappy at this stage, we finally get called (we were only number 10) at about 7.40am, a nice 10 minutes after the train we wanted left. When we get to the counter, we find out that there are only the expensive (not super expensive at US$220, but expensive at US$60 one way) tickets left.
So US$360 later, we each have return tickets to Machu Picchu. The catch being we have to find our own way to a little town called Ollantaytambo and back the following day. Fine. So we catch a taxi to a little street where you can catch a shared taxi to Ollantaytambo. I ask how much and when it will leave. They say ‘now’, but I insist that we need to be in Ollantaytambo by 10am to which they start being honest by saying they will leave in 10 minutes.
They weren’t bad after all and got us there in one piece (with Kim’s stomach contents just staying down). We looked for somewhere to get a drink. Ben just wanted a cold coke, so we went into a shop and asked for a cold coke. No, they had water, fanta, sprite and a 1 litre bottle of coke only. Ok, cold sprite then. No, only cold fanta. Ok fine, cold fanta please. Sheesh.
Next we decided to call our accommodation as they had said to us to let them know when they were coming as they would organise a transfer. Ok no worries. We see a sign for a public phone and go to find it. Nope, the sign lies, there is no phone. We find another one across the street and shock horror, it works! We just had to avoid the live wire that was hanging around eye level.
So I call the hostel and speak with a woman who knows very little English. So in my bad Spanish, I ask her if we can get picked up from the train station (ok, so we didn’t know it was only a 7 minute walk from the station to the hostel at this point!). She said, ‘No problem, I’ll call PeruRail and book you train tickets’. I tried to explain that ‘no no, we have tickets, we are just letting you know that we will be there at 12.10pm’. ‘You are in Cuzco?’. ‘No no, we are in Ollantaytambo, we just want a transfer’. ‘Oh, you need a return ticket?’. ‘No no, we have a return ticket, we want to let you know we will be in Aguas Calientes at 12.10pm’. (Ben laughing as I keep saying ‘tengo tengo’ in Spanish and wondering why I’m dancing with them). ‘Oh, so what do you want then?’. ‘We want to let you know that we will be there are 12.10pm and we need a transfer’. ‘I’m sorry, what?’. (I repeat again). ‘Oh, it’s ok, it is a very small town, and you don’t need a transfer’. ‘OK, no problem, thank you’. And I hang up the phone. I was exhausted. Kim was feeling ill and Ben was wetting himself laughing.
We get on the train and we tell each other that no one is allowed to sleep as its one hell of an expensive train ride. We started to joke about how Peru was one big ‘tourist trap’ (for censorship reasons, I’ll say we said tourist trap). We passed the points where the Inca trail starts. The scenery was absolutely amazing. And the further we went, the more beautiful it became.
When we finally got into Aguas Calientes, the scenery just blew us away. Huge big mountains in such extraordinary shapes with a beautiful river running down the side, it was just breathtaking. The town itself was cute, but it was the surroundings that stood out.
We got to our hostel and it was really really nice. It was more like a hotel (private bathroom, towels and real bedding). We had a gorgeous view of the mountains as we were on the top floor.
We went out for lunch when the ‘tourist trap’ continued. We got a ‘deal’ where we got free sprite and juice and all the meals reduced to 20 soles. Ok fine, only to find out when we were ordering it was only the juice that was free, no longer the sprite. No tip for you
Continuing along the same theme, we went to buy our tickets into Machu Picchu from the ticket office. True to its word, Lonely Planet was spot on the mark when it said that the staff in the ticket office were grumpy. He barely even acknowledged us and had no time for us whatsoever. So instead, we went next door and asked our questions from which we got a great deal more information.
We then returned to the grumpy guy to buy our tickets and curse this country again (sorry, just being honest). So another US$45 out of pocket each and we headed to the bus station to spend another US$14 to get to the gates of Machu Picchu. We wandered around the markets where we found a comical magnet that perfectly matched our idea of Peru (ask any of us later).
We didn’t do anything interesting for the rest of the day except to pay for accommodation that night. When Kim asked if we could leave our bags somewhere the next morning as we were leaving at 4.30am, we were all surprised to hear her ask ‘do you want breakfast and 3.45am then?’. Huh?!?! Yep, this place serves breakfast at all hours! So we booked a wake up call for 4am and a breakfast at 4.15am.
It was a short night, but when we looked out the window at 4am, there were people everywhere! Locals going to work and tourists heading to the bus stop to get in line for the buses. See, you need to be one of the first 400 at MP to climb up to Waynapicchu. We weren’t the only people with this in mind either!! At 4.30am (the first bus leaves at 5.30am), we joined the back of the queue and ended up on the 6th bus!! It was kind of crazy! We got talking to an Aussie couple who were in front of us and they were really lovely. We had a great old chat and time went by really quickly. Before we knew it, some lovely local Peruvians had pushed into the front of the queue and we were moving forward as the first bus had arrived.
It was fairly light at this stage, so we could see the beautiful mountains as we wound up and up the road to Machu Picchu. It was breathtaking. Stunning. But these words barely do it justice. The clouds enveloped the tops of these most magnificent mountains which made it look even more elusive.
When we got to the top, the queue at the gate was even bigger than that at the bus stop (some people had trekked up to be first in line), so we were unsure if we would be able to climb up Waynapicchu after all. But luckily, we were number 64, 65 and 66 for the morning climb at 7am – whoo!
So we went inside and chose a path to take. It was quite cloudy, but that just added to the mystique of the place. It was amazing – to be in this lost city from so long ago and walking the same steps as the Incas. It completely blew my mind and for a moment (just a moment), I forgave all the shortcomings of the Peruvians. Don’t worry, that didn’t last too long
We made our way around some parts of the city and then when it came time, we made our way to the gate to Waynapicchu. After lining up for a while and signing in at number 64, 65 and 66 again (freaky), we started our trek up this huge mountain. It was still quite cloudy, which was a very good thing as we found out on the way back because these mountains are STEEP and we also found out later that loads of people had died on this trek.
The clouds were also good for the cool air they brought. It was a tough climb and we were going straight up for an hour before we reached the ruins. Needless to say, we were glad to reach the top where we took a photo of what seemed to be us on top of the world! We weaved our way up through the ruins (including a quite narrow cave for some people to complain about) and found a spot to wait for the clouds to clear over Machu Picchu. We also met up with the Aussies again!
We were patient and our patience paid off. After about an hour of waiting, the clouds lifted to show us the magnificent panoramic view of Machu Picchu and its surrounds. Stunning and breathtaking. Magical. This is one hell of a city, perched atop a mountain! It’s easy to see why it is such a huge attraction in South America. It really is every bit as good as people say it is.
We spent some more time (and hundreds of photos) up there, perched on a mountain before slowly making our way down. The next group of trekkers were on their way up and we took great delight in making all sorts of comments to the strugglers on their way up. It was also when we realised just how steep the climb was, and the edges of the cliffs. Boy were we glad we were ignorant to that at the start!
Once back in Machu Picchu, we wandered around for a bit, took some more photos and then headed back to Aguas Caliantes for some lunch (and to be lunch for a great number of midges). We picked up our bags and headed to the train station right on time. This was when we were led into a back room to be told our luggage was over the FIVE KILOGRAM limit. He had to be kidding. But no, as usual, we were getting screwed over. Apparently if you pay MORE for a train ticket, you don’t get as many privileges as those who pay less. I told the guy there was no problem on the way up and he took our first and current tickets and went off somewhere. Well we were just dumbfounded. Just when you think you can’t get screwed in any other fashion, they find a new way.
I argued with the guy for a while when eventually he cut a ‘deal’ with me. We pay for 7 of the 41 kilograms we had between the three of us. US$12 later and we were finally boarding the train. I was pretty angry though and got out my laptop to start my angry blog. The train ride was also bizarre because the staff who served our lunch also put on a fashion parade (along with a weird guy with white makeup all over his face, apologies for the lack of culture, I was over Peru through and through by this point) and then tried to squeeze us tourists out of even more money. Weirder still, the guy who was modeling kept saying ‘Gracias Senor’ to Kim every single time he went passed us. Thanks for what exactly?
Anywhoo, when we got to the station where we got on, we were told not to get off, but rather a few more minutes and we would be somewhere that we could catch taxis etc. We were pretty confused at this point (and Kim and I slightly worried as our bags were on a different carriage) but we stayed on. We were then shipped into a bus that took us no more than 800m down the road where taxi touts were standing. Luckily, a French tour guide had pretty much asked if we wanted to share a taxi back to Cuzco – where he would do the negotiating. We were thankful – even though we’d been told never to share taxis. He was great though, even pointed out the mountains and lakes that we passed. Nice guy.
We eventually reached Cuzco and walked up a long hill to our hostel. There was more confusion over the room (we booked 2 rooms, but only 1 was available or a triple room where the shower didn’t work or something…), but we took the nicest room with a working shower with the best bed ever – and a TV! Whoo – things were looking up! For now
We then took a walk to get some dinner. Ben was craving Maccas (yes Maccas), so we walked in to find a trillion other tourists. Maybe we were all sick of the local food! At least we knew this place wouldn’t rip us off. After dinner, we walked around for a bit and Kim found a t-shirt that matched our magnet. So he bought it. I asked twice what the price was (ie. asked, then confirmed) and STILL when Kim went to buy it, it went up by 50%. I told her that I had asked her twice and she just shrugged. It wasn’t too expensive, so we handed over the money. When I looked back in the store after we left, I could see her laughing to her friend. I really don’t like Peru.
We headed back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep. When we checked out in the morning, the hostel guy told us our deposit for the second room we booked didn’t count. I was pretty furious at this stage and had to walk away while Ben took care of him. Just another example of being screwed. It just never stopped. Ben asked how much the taxi should cost to get to the airport before we walked out. The first taxi that came along actually came in UNDER what we were told to pay, so we thought he was a nice taxi driver! Unless the hostel guy just wanted to rip us off more….. Now I’m just being cynical
So we get to the airport 3 hours in advance like they told us to. Except the counter was by no means open. So we waited in line for about 30 minutes. I was still furious and very unhappy with Peru and Kim was unhappy with me being unhappy vocally. So I decided to do as the English do, and write a letter. To my mum I bought a postcard and entertained myself by telling her how much I ‘loved’ Peru without ever once spelling it out. I felt better after that
Oh and another thing, at the airport you have to pay departure tax. We thought we were pretty lucky, because we only had to pay US$12 rather than US$31 because we were flying domestic (We got hit for the US$31 when we left the country instead).
We flew to Lima and had a taxi waiting for us at the airport. But he had to wait until the ground crew had smoko and a lunch break as we waited about 40 minutes for our bags to come out. The taxi driver seemed nice enough, taking a nice scenic route to our hostel.
Now this hostel is not just any hostel. It is called One Hostel and it is THE best hostel to ever stay in. And it’s not the beds (that come with freshly wrapped clean sheets) or the showers (that are even better than showers in Australia) or the breakfast (that seems like the only freshly baked roles we’ve had in 4 months) that makes this place awesome. It’s Melissa who runs the show. When we got there, she had left us a map with everything we needed pointed out and a lovely letter apologising for not being there when we arrived and more pointers. We were quite impressed!
We headed to Miraflores to check out some civilisation. Real shops! We were in shock lol! It was quite pretty though, and the coastline reminded us of Santa Monica. We spent the afternoon playing games and browsing through shops. We ended with yummy ice cream and walked back to the hostel where we met Melissa. We chatted to her for ages and she gave us loads of advice and help.
The next day we headed to a black market to find some shoes for Galapagos. Jose (the security guy at the hostel) negotiated the trip for 10 soles. He was upset that he couldn’t get better for us! So just another notch for getting ripped.
When we got there, we were gobsmacked at just how many pairs of shoes there were! There were THOUSANDS of them! It wasn’t long before we got hungry, so we found a load of restaurants, chose one and ordered Ceviche. We were only slightly worried, but when it came out – it was awesome!!! Loads of seafood, rice, fish, salad… yummo! Melissa later told us we were crazy for eating there.
We then tried to negotiate for a taxi to take us back to Miraflores and all I could negotiate down to was 13 soles. Fair enough, we were beaten this time. But when Kim handed over the money, the guy short changed us! Ended up costing us 17 soles! This was just getting ridiculous now and I couldn’t wait to get out of that horrible country. We walked around some shops, had dinner and headed back.
That night, Kim had a great conversation with Melissa and her boyfriend. I was feeling ill from the anti parasite tablets from Africa so was in bed early. But Kim learnt all about Lima and the apparent good side of Peru! Fancy that, it does exist!!
Just when we thought we were escaping this rip off country, the taxi driver rips us off 5 soles and not only that, he gives us 5 soles that a shop wouldn’t accept! Oh, and then they charged us US$31 to leave the country. They should be paying us to put up with all the crap that goes with visiting this place! I can honestly say I have never ever been more glad to leave a country than I was to leave Peru. If it wasn’t for Melissa and her hospitality, I wouldn’t even have a single good thing to say about the place!! Ok, so Machu Picchu was ok, but the people weren’t exactly friendly or generous.