I realized a dream that I had for over thirty years - I finally saw the ruins of Machu
Picchu. The opportunity just evolved. In Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, we discovered that we could fly return to Lima, Peru, for US$290 each, flying over the Andes.
We left 'Mahe' in a safe marina, protected by guards toting guns, and flew to Lima.
We had just over two weeks in Peru, going very 'down market', staying in Hostals (similar to 'pensions').
We usually had clean sheets - and hot water sometimes. There is nothing more frustrating than being cold and standing under the shower, turning on the hot water and being bombarded with cold water!
We travelled by bus and train, except for one flight from Cusco to Lima as Peter had had enough of buses.
Although I was sick most of the time, with altitude sickness and then a bronchitis bug, it was still a wonderful experience. Peru is a hauntingly beautiful country, encompassing diverse terrains. Incredibly high mountains, jungle area with the Amazon River flowing through, lush farming lands and desert in the south west, along the Pacific coast.
I shall always think of Peru in colours - Dark browns, pinks and greens - and sounds, the haunting sounds of the flute and
zampata, even the guitars were sad rather than joyous.
The people were kind and friendly and very industrious. There are no social services in Peru, so if people don't work they don't eat. Many people are selling something, but low-key and no begging to speak of. People don't smile a lot, I guess they are too intent on survival. Of course there is a wealthy class but a large poor class and not much in between.
Food is very cheap and of good quality and most people looked healthy. However, I believe that bronchial problems are widespread.
Mexico was as poor as Peru in some areas but there was laughter. I wonder if it is because Mexico was also conquered by the Spaniards and has taken on much of the Spanish character, whereas the Peruvians are still very proud of their Inca heritage. The Spanish built churches over the ruins of their Inca temples, some are still visible. Officially, they are Catholic, but it is certainly not a religious country. I think that it is wonderful that their Indian heritage is still so important - four hundred years later.
We spent four days in Lima, an interesting, noisy, city teeming with life. 8,000,000 people live there. There were many beautiful old colonial buildings surrounding well-kept squares with spring flowers in profusion. There are numerous museums and we spent a day just visiting two, where we gained an insight into the history of the country, which was invaluable in our later travels.
A twenty hour bus trip (3rd class) south west, via the Pacific coast road and through a desert, took us to
Arequipa, high in the Andes. The bus arrived two hours late and we missed our connection to Cusco so we decided to change our itinerary plans to maximize our precious time in Peru. Thus we embarked upon the 'bus trip from hell'.
It started out comfortably, at 6 pm then, one hour out of Arequipa, the driver decided to return, as the engine was mal-functioning. He drove past the bus terminal and continued through the town and the other passengers started banging on the sides of the bus. Peter became quite agitated and kept saying "We are being hi-jacked" - the Shining Path guerillas used to be active in that area. What a laugh! We were only being taken to the bus depôt to change buses! The next bus seemed to be in a worse state than the previous one.
So, we were finally on our way, two hours late. The bus was full and the driver picked up peasants with their huge bundles, who filled up the aisles. Because it was so cold, ice on the windows, the bus became so smelly which didn't help me as I was quite ill by this time. The route was over mountains on unmade roads and I was pleased that it was dark, so I couldn't see the drop on either side.
At one stage, some of the peasant ladies screamed and called out to the driver. I think that we almost went over the side. However, as I couldn't see and don't speak Spanish, I was unperturbed.
Finally, fourteen hours later, we arrived at Puno on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, which is fed by three mountain rivers.
Indians live on reed islands on the lake, where their houses are also made of reeds as are their boats, and we visited them a few days later.
After a wonderful hot shower and a rest, we walked around the town and were fortunate to be there on a special feast day, as people from the surrounding villages participated, in colourful costumes, in a dance festival. Puno was a provincial town, dusty, with few trees but a beautiful main square.
We had to wait a few days to catch the train to Cusco. This was a highlight of our trip. We travelled 'Inca' class, the best, and the train was comfortable with large picture windows which gave a wonderful view of the spectacular scenery. Towering mountains, fast flowing rivers, lush farmlands in the valleys dotted with neat villages and we saw many llamas.
Cusco is a beautiful colonial city, white or brick buildings with red tile roofs set around many beautiful squares, with well-kept gardens. Narrow paved streets in the old town, with many museums and a shopper's paradise.
It's a different story to where people live in unpainted mud brick houses along the train route. Such contrasts.
We spent four days there, prior to taking another picturesque train ride, through lush valleys to Aguas Caliente which is a cute tourist town only one hour from Machu
The next day was the culmination of all our Peruvian travels, when we took the small bus along the river valley, then ascended the mountain by a winding road to Machu
Picchu. (Maureen and friends can be seen here in
front of the breathtaking scenery).
Machu Picchu, sacred city of the Incas, perched atop a high mountain with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and river valleys. The ruins are quite well preserved, with the remains of houses and temples and terraces which were used for agriculture.
To reach the higher areas, we had to climb steep stone steps and I had an altitude sickness attack and thought that I wouldn't make it. I stopped and had a rest and a drink of water and made it to the top.
How wonderful to fulfill a special dream!
After another day in Aguas Caliente we took the train back to Cusco and then flew to Lima for a final two days. We had seen what we wanted to and were happy to fly back to Puerto La Cruz and our dear 'Mahe'
Note from Maureen: This was originally written by Maureen as a letter to send to her daughters,
Kim and Simone, so please excuse the apparent self-absorption!
2nd Note from Maureen: Catholics, present and former, will be interested to know that the many religious paintings in Peruvian museums and churches depicted Christ on the cross wearing a knee-length lace skirt...Different!
MORE PHOTOS FROM PERU