A Travellerspoint blog

The Sights of Copacabana

...the lesser known ones anyway

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Utama Hotel continues to impress. The breakfast they provide for their guests consists of an egg (scrambled or fried), coffee with milk, juice, fruit salad, corn flakes, strawberry yogurt, a corn panqueque (sp?), two pieces of bread each, jam + butter, and a slice each of tomato, cheese, and ham.

It’s by far the best breakfast we’ve had since leaving Lima (and with it, Jose’s culinary prowess).

It’s been another productive day. We did all of our laundry (er...dropped it off at reception), bought tickets to La Paz from a tourist agency for tomorrow, and had a bit of a self-guided tour of Copa.

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During our walk, we returned to the Cathedral to take a few photos in the day time, and while we were there, we saw several jazzy cars parked up in front. At first glance, I assumed it was some sort of funeral procession, but apparently drivers buy flowers and frillies to sellotape onto their vehicles in order to be blessed and protected. It looks pretty impressive.

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The Cathedral itself might look pretty Plain Jane on the outside, but the interior was stunning. First off, it smelled a m a z i n g. The altar was bedecked with dozens of identical flower arrangements which put off a really nice fresh perfume that hit us immediately as we walked through the door.

(I always expect that weird sort of musty/dead person smell inside cathedrals. Or incense.)

Secondly, it was incredibly colourful. They’ve used bright paints and glitzy gold highlights on the walls, ceilings, and frescoes.

I don’t often go into churches as a tourist. I feel as though I’m intruding on others who are actually trying to practice some religion. I’m glad I pushed that aside temporarily to check this one out. I don’t think the locals minded us being there.

To be fair, the stray dog that had wandered in and started sniffing everyone knelt down was a far bigger distraction.

We also visited some Incan ruins we’d read about in the LP. There wasn’t much signage to direct us there, but eventually we rocked up to the entrance.

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For Copacabana’s third most famous attraction, it was poorly maintained. Surprisingly, there was more interpretation here than there was in the whole of Machu Picchu, but we still struggled to get our heads around what was in front of us.

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There was broken glass and litter strewn absolutely everywhere, and I was a bit concerned about a three little girls playing in the area. Two of them approached us (about 8 and 5 years old) and offered to explain the Incan Seat if we were interested.

Afraid we’d a.) not understand a word they said, and b.) not be able to afford their services, we politely declined.

(I'm wearing pyjamas because it was laundry day. Don't judge me.)

We finished our tour with a late lunch at a family-owned lakeside cafe. We ordered some nachos to share, and I had to smile to myself when a plate of Doritos piled high with chicken and some goaty cheese came out. Not really nachos as we know them in the States, but surprisingly similar to what I’ve had in the UK, haha.

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We chilled out in our hotel room in the afternoon waiting for it to cool off before venturing out again. We watched a movie on our laptop called “Brazil”. It was weird and shit, but had an impressive cast (including DeNiro).

For those of you familiar with our TV/DVD hard drive set up: It’s one we got off of Nav’s Popcorn Hour, but we decided Dan was probably to blame. You’re off the hook, Nav.

Had a lush supper at the restaurant/hotel next door to ours called La Cupula. It has really good reviews online and in the LP, and they’re well deserved. I had a beetroot fritter with tzatziki and the most amazing mashed potatoes.

Tasty.

Posted by alexis.johnson 12:31 Archived in Bolivia Tagged lakes food cathedrals inca copacabana Comments (1)

Onwards, to Bolivia!

sunny 20 °C
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Happy Thanksgiving!

We had an uneventful day today, but met some interesting characters.

After checking out and putting our rucksacks in storage, we got online to book hostels for Copacabana and La Paz. We changed our Peruvian Nuevo Soles (PEN) into Bolivian Bolivanos (BOB), so that was quite a productive thing done.

Apart from that, we just hung around the hostel and bullshitted with a couple Germans and an American. The German lad (Armando) is properly mental, but very entertaining. (He’s the reason this blog is so delayed. Who can focus on writing when there’s a German prancing around and drinking Havana Rum straight from the bottle?!)

We had long and in-depth conversations about the amount of public transportation available in various German cities, the use of emoticons in our everyday lives (and the possibility of them being their own language), his business ventures here in Latin America, and lord knows what else.

The Germans also had a bus at 10:30, but they were travelling to Puno with a different bus company.

We set off in our separate taxis to the station, but if I ever want to get in touch with Armando, I need only reply to the email he sent me with dozens of emoticons. (machine gun smileys, smiley on a noose, jumping smileys, etc.)

It turns out we accidently bought the posh first class seats again. They were significantly cheaper than Cruz del Sur first class, and we assumed we’d bought the cheaper segundo piso tickets.

Ah well, we’ll be more specific next time.

The journey was uneventful. It sounded at times as though we were fording a river, but we kept our curtains shut tight and I didn’t steal any glances outside.

We reached Puno around 5am, and had to get off the bus and wait around for a couple hours before continuing on to Copacabana. We found a place in the bus terminal that served cheap breakfasts, paid 50 centavos each for a wee*, and retreated back to the bus company’s waiting area.

Back on the bus, we were given some immigration forms to fill in, and I was briefly informed that Americans need to pay $135 for a visa. Did I have one already? No, I didn’t. Somehow, we missed that important bit of information in all of our preparation. I’ll blame the out-of-date guidebook, but it’s our own fault really. I was just (internally) criticising a Californian for never having heard of the travel.state.gov website. Embarrsasing.

I’ll make this brief as it was a rather unpleasant experience and nearly ruined my day:

Bus stops at border somewhere, went to an office, stamp stamp, up massive hill back to bus.

Staff say we still need to go to another office, get another stamp in Peru. Asked if Bolivian Policia Nacional would accept credit cards. No. I need my rucksack from under bus. Bus driver annoyed despite apologies.

Got cash from backpack, went back down hill to Peru border control, stamp stamp.

Went up hill to Bolivia, filled in visa application, told that I needed to make a copy of passport, went to nearby shop, made copy, paid a boliviano for it, handed to man in office, man asked for dollars. I asked how much in bolivianos, man refuses bolivianos.

Went back to nearby shop, changed bolivianos into dollars, returned to office, paid man dollars, sticker sticker, sent us to another desk, stamp stamp.

Returned to the bus tired, grumpy, and broke.

Copacabana is nice. Our names were on a sign so we actually got collected from the bus terminal! It was a free (five-minute) transfer to our hotel, we were checked in, showed to our room, and someone else carried my bag for me.

This was probably worth about $35 of the $135 I paid to be here in Bolivia.

* Shewee has betrayed me on two occasions now. I’m not entirely sure what’s gone wrong, but I don’t like the aftermath. Still in love with the concept, but I think I need more practice. Nobody likes peed in pants for long journeys. On an unrelated note, Warren didn’t actually wee properly either at the bus terminal. The stalls were taken, and he wasn’t sure if the urinal trough was a urinal...or a fountain or something.

Posted by alexis.johnson 06:29 Archived in Bolivia Tagged border_control Comments (0)

Machu Picchu.

...there and thereafter

sunny 25 °C
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We awoke at the buttcrack of dawn to be dressed and ready for the first bus up the mountain at 5:30am. The queues had already grown a fair bit by the time we joined them, but we managed to get onto the third bus.

Up the Hiram Bingham Highway we went! I sat next to the window (to save Woz) and was gripping the seat in front of me on more than one occasion. The side of the road appears to drop off to nothing, and it feels like you’re just centimetres away from plunging into the river below.

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We arrived to the Machu Picchu site before they opened at 6am, so another queue soon formed. Within 30 minutes we were through the gates and into the crowded first steps of the site. Everyone crams around this area in shock and wonder I suppose, then the secondary thought “Shit, I need to take a picture right here. It’s amazing!”

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Soon after, you realize that the same photo can be taken from most places in the first hour of your tour.

Guides were available for hire, but we opted to show ourselves around and earwig onto other English-speaking groups’ when they were near.
I don’t really know how to describe Machu Picchu. It’s full on. I’d have to try to describe a whole ancient city in a paragraph or two, and that doesn’t really do it justice.

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We were there for six hours in total. We found some quality wildlife sneaking about – the viscachas (in the chinchilla family), were our favourites. We watched them for over half an hour. We were quietly munching on Pringles and listening out for the chirping noises the male sometimes made.

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Other fauna on the list (see our photo album!):

• Disembowelled snake
• Sparrow-like birds
• Hummingbirds
• Llamas
• A millipede
• Leaf-cutter ant (of sorts)
• French couple smoking cigarettes and refusing to put them out after being told off. (The worst kind of animals.)

We had timed our visit well. The weather was cool, the clouds and mist made everything look especially mysterious, and there were ‘few’ tourists. The site fills up quickly after 10am. The trains from Cusco start rolling into Aguas Calientes, and day-tripping tourists rule.

At about this time, we found a quiet corner to chill out and take everything in. For Warren, this meant reading our five year-old LP guidebook and looking into visas for our next stops. For me, it involved a long nap. I stretched out on my jacket and roasted under the sun. (Nose is still scabby.)

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After a while, we checked out a few sites we’d missed thus far. Including, the Temple of the Sun – one of the highest points of the entire site. Warren had earlier decided against going up it, but forced himself up a flight of stairs to see the sun dial at the top.

Someone else’s tour guide had to take his hand and lead him down another flight of stairs to the next area.

After that, we were hot, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the number of people there. It was only noon, but it’d seemed like it was nearly supper time.

We exited the site, waited to get on a bus back down the mountain, and slowly made our way back to the hostel for a bit of recuperation time.

The next day, we had a nice lie in before checking out at 9.30. We had nothing to do really, but wait for our train which wasn’t leaving until 3:20 in the afternoon.

During supper the night before, we’d noticed locals coming down some stairs near to us with bags of fruit and veg. The LP book makes no mention of there being anywhere affordable to buy food at all, but they’re missing a mega bargain!

It was a local market with all of the normal fruit and veg, jugerias, panaderias, and the random shops selling tat - such as any household item you can imagine made from plastic.

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Upstairs was an area for prepared meals, and here we enjoyed our breakfast (ham, bread, rocket fuel coffee). We returned in the afternoon for lunch. Both meals cost less than supper the night before.

Our tickets for the return journey were a few dollars more than the trip out to Aguas Calientes. We wondered what this would mean for our train – would it be even nicer? It was called Vistadome, so we assumed we’d once again have the windows on the roof of each car.

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It pulled in, and we knew straight away we were in for a treat. The snacks were posh (they even laid down table cloths for each person + a vase of flowers), and consisted of peanuts + raisins, some crusty bread with cheeses, and a quinoa flan. I got all of Woz’s peanuts and raisins and his flan as he wasn’t sure if it tasted of nuts or not. I wish he had even more allergies. (It’s a joke!)

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The staff were even more attentive this second time around, and we were surprised when someone dressed up in a crazy ass lion costume started prancing around the aisle and dancing with the travellers. Even more surprising, was the cat walk we were subjected to.

Yes. Cat walk.

The two main staff tried on a million different ‘baby alpaca’ wool jumpers and walked up and down the aisle to loud music and clapping. It was properly cheesy, but the funniest thing we’ve experienced in a long while. What made it even better was the male member of staff (who looked a bit like a cartoon character) having to compete with this attractive female member of staff. So cringe-worthy.

As we clapped, he said gracias in what I hope was a sarcastic tone.

Afterwards, they wheeled out all of the jumpers (with their S./800+ price tags), in an attempt to sell them.

It had gone dark while we travelled back to Poroy Train Station and Cusco, and the journey felt twice as long. We checked back into Dream Hostel, had some ramen noodles for tea, and hit the sack.

Posted by alexis.johnson 06:27 Archived in Peru Tagged animals trains wildlife machu_picchu Comments (0)

One step closer, at last!

sunny 24 °C
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We woke up at 5:30 this morning to be ready for our taxi at half six. The receptionist told us it would cost S./20, but when I stupidly asked the taxi driver later, he told us S./25 after a long pause. Ah well, he drove us past the main plaza and into the hills towards Poroy where we were to board our train around 7:45.

As we got into the taxi, I passed Warren his ManBag, and the strap came off in my hand. (!!!)

I swear it was an accident! We tried to shove it into our rucksack, but read our tickets soon after and discovered that there was a 5kg limit per person (bastards). Our rucksack looked massive, and we were afraid they’d have us weigh it and pay even more money. Woz decided to cut his losses and bin it.

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We quickly transferred all of his crap into our other bag (and my coat pockets), and searched for a bin. None were appropriate (is a ManBag organic or inorganic?), so I had to ask a woman in the cafe if she’d put it in a basureria. She looked confused, but eventually took it off my hands.

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Woz is still recovering from his loss. Please won’t you think of him and say a prayer while he heals.

The train journey itself was immense! There are windows on the roof as well as the sides, so you can look up at the sky and mountains as you get closer to Aguas Calientes.

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We were given [unexpectedly] a free cup of coffee and a snack: chifles saldados/banana chips (salty ones, yum) and maizillos cuiertos con chocolate (corn floury stuff dipped in chocolate, a bit naff).

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The journey took about three hours and took us directly to Aguas Calientes. When we disembarked, we were thrown into a marked rammed with foreigners and locals alike. We finally located the exit and set about finding our hostel.

There are no vehicles here apart from the buses that take you to the top/Machu Picchu, and the village is small enough to explore without taxis.

The hostel seems a bit of a shit tip, and there was no one manning reception when we arrived – or indeed at any point throughout the day (as previous Hostel World reviews stated). However, after a few buzzes on their doorbell, someone came down to take our money and show us to the room. They had originally planned on putting us in Room 113 (two singles + ensuite), but it wasn’t clean yet. So we were upgraded to Room 115 (a double + ensuite).

This seemed like a good deal – especially as we booked and paid for the double after all.

Room 115 is fricking amazing. It’s a bit shoddy around the edges, but where it’s lacking in paint and plaster, it’s made up with the view.

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If we had any complaints at all, we’d have to say er...well, that river is a bit noisy!

That’s not a proper complaint though, is it? It’s a White People Problem.

This room cost S./70 per night for both of us – just S./10 more per night than Icky Ica!

Aguas Calientes is even nicer than we had hoped. The LP guide book is pretty harsh, and says something along the lines of “Surrounded by mountains enshrouded by clouds – sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s not.”

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We spent about 20 minutes exploring the town itself (that’s all it took really). Within those 20 minutes, we also purchased our bus tickets for tomorrow, having to avoid a European family trying to sell us their bus tickets they ‘no longer needed’. It was probably no big deal, but sounded pretty shady. We paid full price at the ticket counter (USD 17 each, return).

Once satisfied that we had done everything possible for tomorrow, we walked about a mile to the Machu Picchu museum, supposedly included in our tickets to the main site. The walk was fantastic, if not a little sweaty.

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It turns out that you still have to pay S./22 to get into the museum unless your ticket mentions the museum on it. The man at the door offered to drop the price to S./11 (student price), but we weren't prepared to spend any more money on Machu Picchu. We stopped at a nice cafe on the river before heading back to Aguas Calientes and retiring to our room for a bit of unnecessary R+R.

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In the evening, Warren took an optimistic S./35 out with us to pay for our supper. We split a medium sized veggie pizza and shared a tangy lemonade, spending S./34.

We were both still hungry (and grumpy after arguing about the amount of money taken out for supper), so nipped into a corner shop for Pringles, biscuits, and a couple sodas. This came to S./22. I’m really glad we brought our other groceries with us from Cusco.

Tomorrow’s the big day. Tomorrow, we bus it up to the top to see the MainEvent. No food or bottled drink is allowed, but I’ve stuck some Pringles and biscuits in the SecretPocket all women have and know about (in their purses/bags, don’t be gross). We’ve filled up our flasks ready for the morning.

We’re such cheapskates.

Posted by alexis.johnson 10:22 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Still in Cusco...but preparing for Aguas Calientes

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Today was our second full day to spend in Cusco.

Mostly, we walked.

We had all day to kill, and not a lot to do apart from prepare for our trip to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu tomorrow. Having spent a bit of time in the main plaza already, we ventured a bit further towards what we hoped was an archaeological museum and old Incan ruins.

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We found both, but continued walking as we’re presently a million times over budget with the expense of Machu Picchu. We bumped into plenty of ‘traditionally’ clothed children and women carrying baby lambs or pulling along alpacas on a lead. Each of them suggested we take their photo (for a fee). “Lady, you want a photo? Yes?”

We’re pretty skint, but I really wanted to take a sneaky photo once we’d gotten a few yards away. It never really worked out for me though.

Serves me right, they would have only wanted a sol or two.

It’s a shame you don’t see ‘real’ indigenas around the streets of Cusco. Everything’s pretty commercialized.

I had a wee in a KFC. (Next to McDonald’s and not far from Starbucks on the Plaza de Armas.)

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We decided to shop around for a few more souvenirs – including a belt for Warren (whose pants were continually round his knees like a right gangsta). I bought a pair of stripey travelling pants and a pair of earrings from one shop along the main thoroughfare before we moved on to the artisanal market (which felt like a shopping mall full of souvenirs).

On our first day, Warren picked out a silly hat (un chullo) and I picked out a lovely pair of socks [supposedly] woven from alpaca wool. So, in total, we spent S./57.00 on really useful tat whilst here in Cusco.

Apparently, Aguas Calientes costs twice as much for snacks/groceries/meals, so in preparation for our time there, we bought some UHT milk, cereal, cheese, bread, and tomatoes. We also bought enough water to last us a couple days.

We’re well sorted for our trip tomorrow and very much looking forward to this train journey. The station and the train itself had better be luxurious for the flipping amount of money they’ve charged. Taxi’s been booked, and a new batch of dirty laundry will be dropped off at reception here in Cusco!

Next stop: Machu Picchu, maravilla del mundo.

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Posted by alexis.johnson 10:16 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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