Steve eats a Guinea Pig (and we visit Machu Picchu!
Aguas Calientes, Peru
We arrived in Cuzco after a nice flight (more free stuff) with a fairly dramatic landing ("thats's meant to happen right?") The town itself is beautiful, if a little touristy. Lots of grand squares & small alleyways to explore all in the watchful gaze of the surrounding mountains. However there was an ulterior motive to our visit. We had heard rumours of an English pub that served, amongst other treats, Marmite! After a quick explore we discovered this mythical place, called the Real Mcoy, & realised that the rumours were true! They had Marmite, PG Tips & roast dinners. What more could respectable English folk want? I think excitement got the better of us as we rapidly planned our next few days based around what we would eat! Sausage & mash & Pie & mash sorted us out on night one & we planned a Sunday Breakfast Brunch Day. Tea & toast with marmite followed by a full English whilst the football was on, good times! In the next couple of days we also squeezed in an all you can eat Indian buffet (which was very tasty and very veggie friendly!) & several visits to a vegetarian hole-in-the-wall called Prasada where you could get anything from Lasagna to Falafel to veggie burgers for about a dollar & a half apiece! Apparently there are things to do in Cuszco but we mostly just ate!
After refueling and altitude adjusting for a few days we planned our Machu Picchu excursion (mostly just to stop us from eating!) Due to our rapidly diminishing time we were just going to take 2 days & attack it by van through the mountains then hike into the town below on day one, then awake veeery early and spend day 2 there before returning in the night. A lot to squeeze into 2 days but we knew it was going to be incredible!
We had an early start on day one, downing coffee & piling into a minivan with about 10 others in our group. We were taking the route through the mountains with, we were assured, amazing views. The views were truly unbelievable, none more so than watching in horror as our "driver" tried overtaking at about 70mph on an 8 foot wide mountain road........in the cloud. It was a breathtaking journey punctuated by mountains, valleys, insane driving & vomit stops for 2 travel sickers (not us!) After a brief lunch stop we arrived at our destination miraculously intact. We tossed a heartfelt gracias at the driver & surveyed. We were in the shadow of the mountains at the Hydro Electric Plant, the beginning of the train line or hike to Agua Calientes. We had opted for the hiking so set off in the light drizzle stopping approximately every 6 seconds to take pictures and admire the scenery. After a slightly ill advised bridge crossing (fortunately no trains came) we enjoyed a beautiful hike along the river banks at the base of the mountains. Despite 2 stops (Alice saw a rabbit, I needed a wee) we were still the first to arrive at our destination. Tired but proud we were guided the rest of the way into town. Agua Calientes is a pretty little town, entirely geared up for the daily influx of tourists. For most its simply a night stop for an early start to Machu Picchu. We settled in, scoffed our free meal & headed to bed for an early night with our alarm set for 4am (I didn't even know alarms had a 4am!)
Up & moving early we set off into the dark. We made our way to the bus stop where we were greeted by a queue of like minded people & more importantly ladies on the street selling coffee & cake. Mmmm cakefast! The bus takes a 30 minute winding road up the mountains & at risk of repeating myself the views are utterly incredible. Photos don't really do it justice, neither probably did our tired eyes but we thought they were some of the best from the trip so far! Due to our early start we had 45 minutes spare before meeting our guide so at 6am when the gates opened we were one of the first through the door for our first view of the site! WOW! As the ruins emerge through the clouds for the first time it is breathtaking. Despite seeing the image a thousand times on TV it still blows your mind. We had a 2 hour tour of the site during which our guide explained to us times & dates of construction, the uses of the different buildings & many other facts. Perhaps most impressive was the story of the messengers who used to run messages by relay from Cusco to Machu Picchu on foot, a journey which had taken us a whole day in a speeding suicide van.....fair play! After the tour we had a few hours to ourselves so we did some more climbing, checked out the other side of the mountains so we could see where we had walked in & basically just admired the scenery. We also took a million more photos including some comedy llama shots for the family! When the time came we returned to Agua Calientes on the bus with time to grab a quick coffee before heading to the station for one more treat, the train ride back. The train felt like luxury after so many sketchy buses on the trip & it returns through the mountains so yet more amazing views. When we arrived we were grateful to see a different driver (presumably ours had been recruited as a hollywood stunt driver) so we had a pleasant, if long, return to Cuszco. Our amazing day still had time for one little adventure, we had promised ourselves a nice meal out so I could try the local delicacy.....Guinea Pig (sorry Georgia!) We had found a posh(ish) restaurant and they treated us to a free glass of wine & breads before the meal arrived. Guinea pig in a rosemary sauce, amazing. A bit fiddly to eat, as proven by me accidently firing some across the table onto Alice's plate, but a great flavour & another new experience. So Cuszco & Machu Picchu thoroughly enjoyed, we set off towards the border to see what other household pets I could eat!
Looking for inspiration for your next trip?
Read much more about Peru on the KILROY travels website