Peru: Machu Picchu, Blood Bombs and German Fun

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I left Bolivia, and fuck was I ready to leave. I finished my internship with the Bolivian Express (See final product here this week), and headed to Cusco, Peru to catch up with the gringo trail and see the iconic Machu Picchu (see above).

Merely hours inside Peru I realized that maybe I was a little too harsh on Bolivia. Service, food, danger of theft and disorganization are pretty much the same in Cusco, except things are A LOT more expensive (at least in the touristic areas). At 7 Bolivianos to the Dollar compared with 2.5 Soles to the Dollar, getting screwed not only hurt the spirit, but also the wallet. In fact, I immediately wanted to return to the land of the saltena and stupidly cheap markets.

The major problems I have, I suspect, are common travel problems that most backpackers face. So, when someone tells me they want to travel in the futue I will immediately tell them that they should expect to lose everything and go through daily “ups, downs and crap.” A friend of mine has travelled to 54 countries and not lost or had a single thing stolen. And he spent time in Bolivia and Peru. Freak!

Most of the time I lost stuff it occured when I was rushing or was stressed about something else. I expect that now that I have become a more experienced traveler and am travelling on my own I’ll lose less. I really do feel more confident around the bus stations, restaurants etc, mostly thanks to my vastly improved Spanish skills, but we’ll see.

Another major reason that I didn’t like Bolivia, and I didn’t want to mention it before, is quite frankly because some of the people I was with. When you travel you meet so many people each day. Sometimes you click, sometimes you don’t. No offense, but we didn’t click and I was very glad to move on. ‘Nuff said.

My last hurrah in Bolivia was a trip to Lake Titicaca on the Isla del Sol for the End of the World / End of Capitalism celebration hosted by the Bolivian government. I went through the slow hectic process of getting accredited as a journalist in Bolivia and got a handy press pass for the event. Evidently, I survived the End of the World, but just barely. I spent 12:01 am of December 21st puking my brains out outside of a tent filled with 32 international journalists. Read the story that I pitched to Vice in the next couple days if they decide to take it, if not I’ll post it here or on Forgetthebox.net.

Vice1 Lake IMG_7190I immediately was impressed by the bus in Peru compared to my horrific Bolivian bus experience. Bus employees were courteous and the ride was a comfortable 12 hours overnight to Cusco, Peru. When I arrived I checked in at Loki Hostel, the notoriously dubbed party hoste. There I spent a few days, including Christmas, before I headed to Machu Picchu on Boxing Day.

Loki is a well-oiled gringo-churning machine. There are five Loki hostels and counting… 3 in Peru (Lima, Mancora, Cusco), La Paz (Bolivia), and Salta (Argentina). They all exist as a sort of backpacking cult – when you go to one, most people visit another. I plan to go to the La Paz and Salta Lokis. And they deserve the business in my opinion. Delicious food, clean rooms, lots of clean bathrooms, soap and toilet paper (huge deal and very rare), and a legendary party atmosphere. One of the main attractions is Loki’s own drink the Blood Bomb. Always trying to beat the record for most Blood Bombs at one time, owners and volunteer bartenders working in exchange for discounted food and board line up glasses of Red bull topped with shots of vodka and grenadine. The shots are then lit on fire and toppled over like dominoes into the glasses of Redbull to the chagrin of the Loki-party goers.

20121223-IMG_7516The thing about Loki is that you get trapped there. With all the comforts of the West for such a cheap price many find themselves stuck in the hostel for days on end. Drunk nights turn into hangovers, which turn into hangover food, which turn into sweatpant Skyping, which turn into more Blood Bombs and then another night.

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Sure, judge me because I wasn’t cowering the city for Peruvian contact, but I learned a lot from the people at Loki and for me that’s part of the experience. That being said, I did walk around the city a bunch, got in conversations with taxi drivers, servers and market cooks, tried the local street food that gave me the shits (a common theme for all backpackers in South America). But, I spent far more time with the Europeans, Canadians and Australians I met at Loki. Australians are EVERYWHERE by the way. They are by far the travellers I’ve seen the most of. They are so much like Canadians it’s scary. I’d probably move there if it wasn’t so isolated.

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At Loki I had a delicious Christmas dinner filled with fresh bread and cheeses, turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes before I left the next morning on my Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu.

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The Jungle Trek is basically for people that didn’t have the foresight to book the Inca Trail six months in advance and who don’t feel like doing the 5 day Salkantay trek where you sleep in tents and walk 89 km.

The Jungle trek started with a mountain bike ride down a couple massive mountains, but was not nearly as fun or reliable as my Death Road tour (+1 for Bolivia). Our guide Abraham spoke fluent English and was pretty cool, but no Puma (Pampas Tour) or even Rylan (Death Road). He’d been a guide for 7 years and you get the feeling that he knows what he is doing and it’s all part of the plan. For the four-day trek, answering our bitching complaints and questions, and for making sure everything was on schedule and secure. Apparently Abraham only makes about $100 for the whole thing and that doesn’t go as far as you think in the relatively expensive Peru. What a shame.

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Our group, suitably dubbed the “Gringo Elite,” by one of the Australians was compiled of two Germans, two Dutchies, three Australians, two Canadians, two South Koreans and one Russian. For many of our photos, we did a thumbs up and didn’t smile in honour of “German Fun,” because Germans have no fun :P.

The trek through the mountains and along the historic Inca trail invented by the ancient conquerers to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu was pretty incredible. I especially liked the raging rapids of the Sacred River that run all the way into the Amazon river and into the Atlantic ocean.

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Unlike Salkantay or the Inca Trail we stayed in comfortable beds in either rural homes or in hostels. There, we had an opportunity to eat together, get to know each other and of course drink. I can’t believe that I am saying this, but the highlight of the whole trek (including seeing Machu Picchu), was the night we got absolutely hammered playing Kings on a sidewalk in a small town. The game got pretty out of hand and even our guide got hammered. What ensued was a hilarious gringo experience drinking with local old Peruvian men at a bar then taking over the dance floor of a nearby club. Definitely the Gringo Elite we all know and hate haha.

The next day we went zip lining and had fun, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the zip lining I did in Quebec.

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Finally, after a relatively leisurely three days we arrived in a beautiful town just below Machu Picchu mountain. We rested there that night in our chill hostel rooms with Seinfeld and Greece on TV. At 4 am we woke up and began our mission up the mountain. I was at the front of the pack when the gates opened at 5 am for the hike straight up to Machu Picchu. The rain was coming down and this part of the trek was far from easy. Thousands of rock steps winded up the mountain and with the high altitude you were bound to sweat, a lot.

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Many people chose the more chicken route of taking a bus up, but it costs 9$ and takes away from the experience in my opinion. Walking up kind of felt like the Spartan Race and I was pretty pumped when I got to the top in just about 50 minutes.

However, instead of catching the sun rise, we were met with rain, rain and more rain. Cold, chilled and wet Abraham led our tour of Machu Picchu for two hours, but I honestly couldn’t appreciate it as much due to the fact that I was getting soaked. My trusty Gore-Tex rain jacket couldn’t even hold up and the papers that I thought would be safe in those pockets got wet – including my visa and passport.

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For the entire four day trek I lugged my tripod for the sole purpose of taking an HDR (High Dynamic Range photo where three photos at different exposures are merged on Photoshop) of Machu Picchu, but the clouds blocked my way. Finally, by about 2:30pm, 6.5 hours in the sun stated to break the clouds and I got a chance to get my HDR photo and a couple stupid gringo elite shots as well.

Machu Picchu HDRWe spent the rest of the night in town until our 9:30pm train (delayed to 11pm because a few Americans were sold tickets for a different date and had their seats given away). Along the way the two Germans and one of the Dutchies and I played a card game called Yanif on the table in the train. The Israeli-invented game is actually one of the best card games out there and I quickly became obsessed. While we played, everyone on the bus slept and we didn’t arrive in Cusco until 4am.

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Then, I checked into MilHouse hostel for a change from Loki (I ended up spending my days at Loki as my friends were there and it was an all-round better vibe).

After my 24 hour day, I had a recovery day, which meant uploading and editing my photos and making the switch from iPhoto to Adobe Lightroom. I can’t state any more strongly how much of a revolutionary switch this was. I put everything on my External Harddrive as I cleaned up all the remnants and hard-drive sucking originals of iPhoto. I spent all day and into the night deleting photos and making some fun edits in Lightroom as you can see from my photos

The next day was New Years Eve and I was feeling on top of the world. I made plans to go out for dinner then to party with my Loki friends and Gringo Elite in Loki, then go to the massive New Years Eve celebration in Cusco. I got to talking to a couple cute Argentinian girls in Spanish and they wanted to see my photos, particularly the HDR one, so I pulled out my computer and plugged in my harddrive…and I waited…and nothing. It wouldn’t appear! The harddrive with my entire journalism portfolio of videos, articles and resumes. The hard drive with all my photos including important family photos. The hard drive with movies, audio books and TV shows… WOULD NOT TURN ON! My happiness came crashing down in an instant. I’d rather lose my computer or my camera and get it insured than to lose all my important information. Information is so finite.

I went out that night really pissed off and decided to drink a lot because I was angry., which is really unlike me.

We had dinner and went to Milhouse to play Kings, but even that pissed me off. These people kept “vetoing” the good rules in favour of stupidly judgemental ones and one guy even yelled at me for playing the Sevens rule like it is supposed to be played – with fuck yous and reversals, not Happy New Year and continuing). Obviously, this is super arbitrary and shouldn’t have pissed me off, but these United Kingdom/Australian cocky bros got to me.

I retreated to Loki where the party was raging and had a couple Blood Bombs before departing to the main square. Cusco is a popular New Year destination because thousands of people wearing yellow and throwing yellow confetti circle the main square at midnight to bring a prosperous and successful New Year. It was chaos! Everyone was hammered, drinking beers on the street and shooting fireworks, one of which hit me right in the chin. After one lap around the square the mood changed. Three girls had lost their camera or their phone or both. The tears flowed and I tried to help them search through the rubble, but just like Simba running against the oncoming stampede, there was no hope.

I helped my Canadian friend into a cab home and returned to the street for a weird meat, egg, French fry and lettuce burger. Wasn’t bad actually. Next thing I know I’m back at Loki drinking more and “Thrift Shop” comes on. Macklemore is officially HUGE (42 million+ YouTube views, Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, #1 in Australia, played in Loki Peru etc.)

Partying was fun, but I was still so angry about my hard drive situation and sad for the girls who lost stuff.

The next morning I got up early to try and fix the hard drive. I looked online for options, but everything online was either defeatist or said they’d charge me $100 just for the program to try and save some of the content. I suppose it was the stress that I put on it after transferring so many photos to it. A couple hours of stressful searching then BAM! – the hard drive reappeared and it’s all-good. Suddenly the sun was out and I was happy. Its amazing how u can be so down in the dumps then it works out. I felt so silly for being so upset, but I guess it’s natural.

Now I am back in La Paz in my ‘hood of Sopacachi. I sorted out my Brazil visa after a long process and $65 and am officially hitting up Carnaval 2013!

A couple Loki/Gringo Elite friends will be here in La Paz in a couple days and we will meet up this weekend for a couple birthdays. Monday I’m off to the Salt Flats, then to Argentina for a completely different experience.

Finally a happy post eh! Feelin good!

Happy New Year!

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