Thursday, July 21, 2011

Machu Picchu

We got up at 3 AM, and were at the gate to the Machu Picchu site at 4 AM. A line of about 100 people was already there when we got there. The reason for this early rising is that only the first 400 people to enter the site were allowed to climb the Huayna Picchu mountain, overlooking the Machu Picchu ruins. The entrance is a few thousands of steps above this gate. Our group was very eager to be allowed to the Huayna Picchu, and so our clever guide came up with the idea of bribing the guards to let us in before the gates officially open at 4:50. He collected money (just coins this time), and caused a fuss in the previously organized line.


We refused to participate in this unfair crime, and joined the common people standing in line. We later found out that our group abandoned this idea as they were afraid of being stoned. We could hear a large group of Israelis in the front of the line shouting insults at our cheating group.

The Race
The gates opened on schedule and the race began. At first, there was no pushing, but soon it became a wild race to the top. The competition was not just against the people in line, but also against the buses bringing richer tourists from town. After a few hundred steps, people started choking and quit the race, although most of them continued as fast as they could (meaning slowly). Amit chose not to pass people in line, and so was stuck behind a group of enthusiastic British geeks. Shoham took the Israeli approach and got 12th to the top. The first 10 were of course also Israelis.


Amit got around 150th. Our group got around 200th. At the entrance we could choose entering Huayna Picchu between 7-8 AM or between 10-11 AM. As was settled earlier with our smart guide, we chose the earlier entrance. The rest of the group took the later entrance.

Huayna Picchu
On our way to the entrance to
Huayna Picchu, we enjoyed the rare opportunity to walk around the ruins almost alone.


The climb up the very top of this mountain wasn´t easy and consisted of steeper steps. We were the first to get there, but unfortunately there was little to see because of the clouds.


We waited there for 2.5 hours, until we could get a nice photo of the ruins, which was a bit tricky because again, the camera´s screen didn´t work.



There we met the 2 Argentinians from our group, who came up by the second bus. To do that they woke up at 2 AM and were on the line for the bus at 2:30. On our way back we visited the Gran Caverna (big cave). Although it was a nice walk with little crowd, the cave itself is not interesting, and the detour involves many more steps.



Machu Picchu Mountain
We had lunch we brought with us in a small sack, as it is not allowed to bring bags larger than 20 liters. When we finished, it was still early enough to make a last effort and climb the highest pick in the site - the Machu Picchu mountain. In the entrance you register with the time you entered. Before we were halfway up, we were already higher than the Huayna Picchu´s top.


All the way up, we met smiling people getting down who were joking with us. At the top we were welcomed by the huge flag of Cusco province.


There we met a few Americans who asked us about the time the climb took us. They were very disappointed to find out that we did it in 52 minutes, half of their time. We also met a nice Lithuanian couple who asked too many questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Naively, they woke up at 5 AM to wait for the bus in hope they would be among the first 400 to enter. We also met Moshe from Israel whom Shoham met earlier, as he was the 9th to enter. He had a stove to make coffee on the top, but no-one had spare water for it.

Loosing our Heads
When we got back to the hotel, we discovered that our agency bought us the cheaper train ticket, at 9:30 PM, unlike all the other people of our group whose train left at 6:45 PM. After getting down from the train in Ollantaytambo, we went on the van that was waiting to transfer us back to Cusco. Suddenly we noticed that we forgot our snack bag on the train, but it was to late to retrieve it. Sadly, besides good snacks it contained also a flash light and some clothes. We got back to our hostel at 2 AM, and slept well.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Monday, July 18, 2011

Salkantay trek

Booking the Trek
After the generous breakfast in Guest House Estrellita (15 Sol) we passed the day in travel agencies, comparing prices for the Salkantay trek.


The prices range between 170-450 USD for the exact same trip. If, by any chance, you get to the 450 USD agencies, you are welcome to put them on the black list of the official tourist information center not far from the Plaza de Armas. The price of 170 USD includes 4 days of meals, 5 days of guidance, 3 days of baggage carrying (5 kg only, or a big backpack for 2 people), 3 bus rides, a train ticket, a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. You save about half of the costs if you do the trek by yourself. You should consult the official tourist information center, because the agencies would tell you out of it by lies. To avoid carrying everything by yourself you can hire a donkey porter, but then it is not sure you would save much money. For the entrance to Machu Picchu you can get a 50% (20 USD) student discount if you have the ISIC card. Maybe it is possible to lower the price if you take the late train from Machu Picchu (35 USD instead of 50) and take a cheaper hostel than what is offered (the showers are never really hot). You save a bit of money if you pay in USD rather than Sol, because they have bad rates. You have also agencies specializing with Israelis, meaning you get the same thing for a higher price and you probably travel with Israelis (not recommended).


Our agency wasn´t really good so we recommend on another that gave our friends a better service, even though it is an Israeli agency - Havitush. We found out that we needed to book the trip for the following morning if we wanted to get to the Huayna Picchu mountain in the last day the entrance there is still free. If we had booked for a day later, the entrance there would have cost us 150 Sol (there is no student discount for this).

Getting ready to the trek kept us awake until midnight, and in addition we had to wake up at 4 AM. On the van we met our group for the following days: a British couple, a Scottish-Irish couple, 3 American girls, 2 Argentinian guys, a German girl, a Swedish big guy, a Colombian girl and 2 local guides.


When we got to Mollepata, there was a nice breakfast table in front of us, and everybody dug in. When we finished eating, we discovered that this meal wasn´t included, so we had to pay 7 Sol more. Annoyingly, we were the only ones not aware of this fact, because of our last minute booking, at 9 PM. Right before starting the walk, we were introduced to the complete accompanying staff: a cook and his helper, and a donkey porter. Our guide, Fabian Pio, strongly recommended to buy Coca leaves, water and walking sticks and most people listened to him.


The first day was mostly uphill on a dust road towards the Humantay pass. The first lunch was surprising in many ways. We got to a scenic lunch place, where they prepared a table and chairs for us.


Before starting to walk, we declared ourselves as vegan, but the chef had no idea what the difference is between that and vegetarian, so we explained we don´t eat meat, fish or milk and overlooked the eggs. We had to eat a lot of bread and crackers we brought from Cusco to complete the modest but tasty lunch. Again, we were encouraged to buy expensive water (8 Sol for 1.5 liters) there. We got to the campsite under the glacier in the height of 4,200m.


Most people complained about the cold night, but we were quite warm in our many clothes and quality sleeping bags joined together.

Pio woke us up at 5 AM, offering coca tea, which we refused as it is a drug. All other people disagree with us, and consume coca tea and leaves eagerly, as it is supposedly good against altitude sickness.


The climb to the pass (4,650m), under the Salkantay mountain (6,270m), was easy for us, but most people around us had to make a big effort to get there.



Surprisingly, the difficult part of the walk was going down to the Challhuay campsite (3,900m).


On the way down, we had snow fights. In the camping it was much warmer, and Pio tried, unsuccessfully, to organize a football match. Our group preferred to drink beer, and we amused ourselves by solving crossword puzzles.


The porter was about to finish his work with us and leave on the following morning. Pio explained that it was a custom to tip the staff that came with us on the trip, but we refused to join in, as we don´t believe they work for poor salaries, as tourists claim.

This time we got to sleep late and were woken up at 5:30 AM with the usual offer of coca tea.


It was a short day of walking downwards through various fruit trees in a semi-jungle until our lunch place.


Maybe because of our constant complaints regarding the small amounts of food we got, we received an open bouffet, and could eat enough to be full. The rest of the way to Santa Teresa we did by car, although personally we prefered to walk. We were 19 people in a 15 people van, so we had a flat tyre after 10 minutes.


During the ride we passed many banana and coffee plants. In Santa Teresa, Pio arranged for the driver to take the group to the free hot spring for a "special" price (10 Sol). He forgot to mention that we could easily walk there in half an hour. It started to annoy us that we had to add more money to this expensive trip, so we stayed in town, and did some shopping. Dinner was again satisfying, and our group was amazed to see how much rice Amit could consume.


Again, we woke up at 5:30 AM with the coca tea offer. After breakfast, the cook gave us all the leftovers. Up to the hydroelectric power plant we walked up the river along side many vans that transported lazier tourists.


We had early lunch there, and then proceeded to walk alongside the railway in another semi-jungle. It was so hot that we stopped for a swim in a freezing stream. The view was amazing and the peace was broken only a few times by the passing trains.


The day ended in the Machu Picchu town, which is falsely called Aguas Calientes. There we splitted into 3 hotels depending on what the agency booked. We got the nicest room we had on this trip, with a private bathroom and shower. Unfortunately, this didn´t mean we had hot water. After 4 days in the dirt, we could settle for a cheaper hostel or for the nice looking campsite in front of the entrance to the Machu Picchu site. For our last dinner, we were happy to get fried bananas instead of fish, but we were less thrilled to get our breakfast for the next day - an orange, a candy, a snackbar and a bit of juice. Again, money was collected to tip the cook, his assistant, and the guide´s assistant. This time the tips were bigger and again we refused to join in. We went to sleep right after dinner, to try and get some sleep before climbing to Machu Picchu before dawn.


For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Titicaca to Cuzco

Meeting Ernest
At 11 AM we were hungry enough for lunch in Ayaviri, but due to the early hour, they only served breakfast - lamb soup (5 Sol). Right when we finished eating we noticed a loaded bicycle passing in front of us. Amit cycled quickly after it. This was Ernest, a 52 year old South African, who has been riding around the world for over 4 years. He cycled through Africa, Asia, Australia and South America, and achieved a total distance of 80,000 km.


In this long period of traveling he went through many interesting experiences including some near death experiences: a kidnapping attempt in Iran and the Dengue fever. He had a lot to teach us, including how to avoid locking yourself outside your hotel room - if the door opens and hits the wall the lock is pressed, thus when the door slums shut it would be locked. His self-designed bicycle racks intrigued us.


Until Santa Rosa we rode together. In the entrance we bought a piece of smoked cheese, while a group of suspicious kids looked at our stuff carefully. As recommended by Rene, we slept in Santa Maria hostel (8 Sol for a single room, 15 Sol for a double room). For dinner we made sandwiches with llama Chicharon (fried meat) that we bought in the street, and dined with the hostel´s cute kitten to the sound of barking from the roof, where the dog lives.


Heating Up

We climbed up to the pass of 4,350m above sea level, and went down 5 km until the "medical" hot springs, Poza la Raya, 2 km off-road to the left.


According the receipt, we paid a ridiculous entrance fee (1 Sol) to the university. It was windy and cold outside, but nice and warm in the pool. Somehow we managed to get out and start cycling again.


Shortly later, we saw another hot spring, which looked more expensive but was much closer to the road. On the way down Amit had yet another flat tyre, but even with this delay we made it to Sicuani before dark. We had an excellent cheap dinner (3.5 Sol) in front of Hostal Rinconcito LangueƱo (12 Sol for a single room, 20 Sol for a double room) where we stayed.


Down with the river
The following day we rode separately, and we skipped the ruins Ernest stopped to see. For lunch we had fried fish (2.5 Sol for jurel, 6 Sol for trout). After 100 km of riding down the river, we arrived in Urcos.


It took just a few minutes of asking around about Ernest to find out where he was staying, and we stayed in the same cheap hotel (15 Sol for our room). He took the most expensive room with color TV and cables (15 Sol after discount). We ate dinner in a cheap and bad restaurant (3 Sol), got up at 5 AM and left at 7 AM, when Ernest just woke up. After 3 hours of a frozen ride we got to Cuzco.


We made it right on time to have a generous breakfast in Guest House Estrellita (15 Sol), recommended by all the cyclists we met so far in Peru.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Around Titicaca Lake

The border crossing from Bolivia to Peru was easy and fast. All the way from Copacabana to Juli is continuously populated. Hostal El Palacio (10 Sol), 30m down the road from the plaza, provided us a comfort shelter from the light rain. They had a sun based heating system, meaning cold showers. We stayed in the 3rd floor and our bicycles in the garage.


Before we managed to get out of town we had 2 flat tyres, probably because of the cold puddles. At night it snowed on the mountains around us and in town it was still raining. On the way out of town we met 2 cyclists, Sam from the UK and Gerard from Spain, who plan to get to Ushuaia and to Santiago. They gave us their map of Peru, which was very helpful as our Bolivia map was about to end.


Lunch was delicious in the market of Ilave: fried fish with rice and broad beans and fried cheese (16 Sol for both of us). We couldn´t get the vendor to give us the name of the cheese, except for simply - cheese. There we got more evidence for the Peruvians´ cruelty against animals, when living sheep were tied up and put on top of vans as personal luggage of the passengers.


We rode in the beautiful valley until the 450 years old town of Chucuito, and stayed in the first hostel we found, Hospedaje Cajas Reales (10 Sol, Phones: 951632335 / 951351783 ).

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The owner made us a good dinner of lamb soup, fried chicken fillet, potatoes and marinaded vegetables (16 Sol for both of us). Surprisingly, she has degrees in social working as well as in business management, but she claims that it is still better for her to operate her hotel, restaurant and grocery shop, as it is impossible to find a professional job in Peru without a godfather.

We had a serious breakfast: fruit salad with walnuts, an omelette with nettle (urtica), bread, plum cake marmalade and lemonade with mint from the garden.


Before leaving, we went to see the old church which was unfortunately closed.


We met a German couple who were cycling from Lima to the Bolivian jungles. After Amit fixed another flat tyre, we had a nice view of rocks in different shapes and colors.


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In Puno we took a right turn and rode by the beautiful beach, but then had to retrace in order to get out of the city, and climbed 3 km in 40 minutes. In return to the climb we got a nice view of the city and then descended back to the lake level.


The 30 km straight road to Juliaca seemed especially long due to strong face winds.


We barely made it to this ugly city before dark, and were welcomed by many moto-taxis/cycle-taxis, buses and endless honking.

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After a price survey of 5 hotels, we stayed in Yasur hotel (25 sol for both of us), in the 3rd floor, and managed to convince the owner to keep the bicycles on the 1st floor. We ate in a so-called Chinese restaurant: rice with shrimps (11 Sol) and rice with vegetables and chicken (8 Soles), both came with a soup.

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As we told the hotel owner in the evening, we woke up at 5 AM and were ready to hit the road at 9 AM. Unfortunately, our clock was on Bolivian time and in Peru was only 8 AM, so we had to wait for an hour until he came to unlock the room with our bicycles. After another flat and straight ride we got to a nice valley, where we stopped to lunch.




While we were eating we met Rene from Germany, with whom we switched information and maps. In Pucara we slept in an ugly hostel with cold showers (again) and a stinky pig pen in the backyard.


This place is also a factory of ceramics puppets for religious tourists.

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In order to satisfy our hunger, we had to dine twice (5 Sol each time). We left early and had time to see another closed ancient church.


For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle