Very difficult write up for me, as I want to be positive about all the places we have been and are going, but this is tough for Peru. Basically, the place made me ill! As we progressed North up the South American continent the buses got worse and worse, and less and less hygienic. Mostly this was OK. Although I am prone to travel sickness on buses from time to time, I was managing it fine, until Peru. Although a really long day, the border crossing was OK. Unlike Argentina to Chile, where we booked a ticket from Bariloche to Santiago, everyone was unloaded at the border, bags and documents checked, and then we were back on the same bus to finish the trip. When you cross from Chile to Peru, you need to get a ticket first to the border town of Arica. At the bus station, you need to find a collectivo or taxi who will take you to Tacna (in Peru) and wait while you leave Chile, drive you across no-mans land and wait again while you enter Peru. This all went pretty well. On arrival at Tacna our driver took us straight into a travel agent who sorted us a bus to Arequipa, where we were due to stay for a few days. The service was great but then our bus seemed to take hours to get to Arequipa and from some overheard discussions we wondered if we had been ripped off a bit on price! Still these are the perils of travel, and at this point you just have to live and learn.
Arequipa was a very pleasant place. The Hostal was bearable, and we had a great time at the chocolate workshop, visiting Juanita (the frozen ice maiden-sacrificed by the Incas 600 hundred years ago) and going to see the Condors fly. We got some serious insect bites, which we hadn’t been expecting at this point, and I got my first bout of intestinal problems, that I put down to a dodgy empanada in the bus station café. I was looking forward to the next leg to Cusco because the bus we had booked had a reputation for being the premier service. Sure, enough as soon as we got on a cooked meal was put in front of us. Then the bus started up. I’ll never be quite sure what it was but I think the bus engines resonant frequency just happened to be the same as my stomach. Every time I sat down I could feel the vibrations shaking my midriff uncontrollably. I spent most of what should have been a great trip down in the stairwell by the toilets!
I am going to gloss over our accommodation in Cusco as all the relevant comments are on trip advisor. We had agreed to volunteer at a place that does a sort of after school club for Peruvian kids and the Hostal was part of the set up. Basically, the charity does some great work, but needs to do work on the Hostal, which is tired and needs improvement.
It was while doing the first 2 weeks volunteering that I had my next bout of sickness. We understood the tap water in Cusco should not be drunk. It’s not that it is dirty, it just contains bacteria that anyone who doesn’t live there won’t be used to. So drank bottled water, and made sure we boiled any food we cooked in it properly. However, we hadn’t accounted for the altitude! This can upset your digestion on its own, which is why everyone drinks coca tea. At 3,500m the outside air pressure is considerably less than that at sea level, which means water boils at a much lower temperature than usual. I had 76C quoted at me. Whatever the actual number, this isn’t hot enough to kill the bugs that make you ill, so even boiling the water is no use, and cooking rice and pasta in it is no different to drinking it! Elsewhere on the site you will see the story about how I lost weight in the run up to this trip. By the time I left Cusco I was turning into a skeleton. Luckily I knew the next stop was Disney, Florida, and that I could have 3 weeks of burgers and fries. Yee-haw!.
So the overall impression then is that Peru is not a great place to go and I didn’t enjoy it. But! There is a problem! You see Peruvians are really great and friendly. As I said Arequipa is a very pleasant city (and this is coming from a man who typically doesn’t like cities). Cusco has some really interesting places to visit, museums and the like, and ironically some great eateries (Mr Soup, Cholos, café Verde). It is also the place where we went off to visit Macha Pichu and the Amazon (see the details in the Blog via the links), both fantastic things that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
So if you are thinking of heading for Cusco, then it is great place to go, you just have to be aware of the impact it may have a on your stomach and bring anything with you that you will need to manage this. The bottom line is that some people get affected worse by the altitude than others, but if that is a problem the locals swear by the Coca tea. I had a few tries but didn’t really feel any effects either way. The other thing to be prepared for in Peru is the time it takes to get anywhere. It is such a mountainous country even journeys of a few miles can take hours, as you drive all the way up one valley side to come all the way back down the other, but in the end the unique experiences and things you get to do are worth it. To find out what the kids thought, click here.