Peru - The Potato Chick

Salkantay Trek & Cusco, Peru

In a sentence...Amazing. But never again.

Food we brunch at Jack’s Cafe in Cusco – the best french toast I’ve had in a long time.

It was 8.30am on the morning of Day 2 of our five day trek to Machu Picchu. I was slowly inching my way up the hill to the Salkantay Pass, gasping for breath at each step thanks to the high altitude. I approached Nick – resting on a rock and barely troubled by even a bead of sweat. He had the camera out ready: “smile Katie!”

“I can’t smile!” I snarled, and promptly burst into tears.

But back to the beginning...

Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is an alternative to the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail must be booked months in advance. On the other hand, we were able to book Salkantay only the day before we left which worked well with our airy fairy itinerary.

What followed was four days (and 80 kilometres) walking through varied terrain including farmland, cloud forest and, of course, the snow capped Salkantay Pass. The scenery was incredibly beautiful.

The four hour ascent to Salkantay Pass, 4600 metres above sea level, was the biggest challenge for me – both physically and mentally. But once I reached the low point described above things started to improve.

The food got better with each meal as the chef edged closer to the day when he would ask us for a tip. I guess he hoped that the passage of time would help us forget that Day One’s meat, rice and potato were stone cold.

When we arrived in Aguas Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, I was exhausted and filled with pride that I had managed to complete the Trek. Sleeping in a hostel instead of a tent for the first time in four days felt like absolute bliss.

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Machu Pichu

With all that walking done and dusted, it was time to see Machu Picchu. Only 1800 steps in 5am darkness stood in our way.

We arrived at the top coated in sweat thanks to the aforementioned steps. It was freezing, raining and foggy. Irrationally, I was pretty peeved. It’s hard to remember the people starving in Africa (ie: suffering much greater injustice than myself) after walking 80 kilometres in four days. Our guide assured us the fog would clear but I wasn’t so sure. However, a few hours later things had certainly improved.

We spent hours exploring the entire site including walking up to the Sun Gate, where people who walk the Inca Trail enter, and the Inca Bridge. All in all, it is an incredible place and visiting it was a definite highlight of our trip.

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We spent a night in Cusco on either side of the trek. It was a very cute cobble stoned town which, amazingly, has managed to retain a lot of charm despite being filled with people harassing you to book a tour, buy their wares or have a massage.

We spent most of our time in the San Pedro market. We enjoyed a fruit smoothie there each day, ate delicious ceviche for lunch, stocked up on dried fruit and nuts to make “scroggin” for the trek and even bought a few gorgeous blanket souvenirs.

Of course we also found the time to engage in that most famous of Peruvian pastimes – eating guinea pig. It was an interesting experience but not one I’m likely to repeat; too much fiddling around with teeny tiny bones.

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Our flight out of Cusco was cancelled which resulted in a night in a rather fancy hotel courtesy of Star Peru. Although this meant that the next day was a bit of a nightmare, starting at 5am as we squeezed three non-connecting flights into one day, a touch of luxury was the perfect way to end this part of our trip.

Next stop...Medellin, Colombia.

Posted 19 April 2015

Arequipa & Colca Canyon, Peru

In a sentence...a fabulous start to our time in Peru.

Food we loved...everything we cooked at our cooking class.

From Bolivia there were plenty of long distance buses heading all the way to Cusco (the starting point for Machu Picchu) but we decided to make a detour to the lovely colonial town of Arequipa and the world’s second deepest canyon, Colca Canyon. This “detour” proved to be an excellent decision.

Colca Canyon

After a long bus ride we arrived in the little town of Cabanaconde to fog and pouring rain. During the trip we had caught glimpses of the splendour that awaited us in the canyon but the bad weather really affected visibility. We asked the barman if it had been raining all day. “It’s been raining for three days” was his reply. We spent a cosy night in the hostel’s restaurant eating pizza and drinking pisco sours and went to bed hoping desperately that the rain would be gone in the morning.

The next day the rain had stopped but the fog had not disappeared. We decided to make the 1000m descent into the canyon anyway. Even through the fog we could tell that our surroundings were gorgeous. About half way down we got below the fog clouds and a magnificent view of the canyon revealed itself to us. The sight of the oasis, Sangalle, with palm trees and a swimming pool motivated us to continue our descent. After three hours of steep walking we finally reached the bottom. I was utterly exhausted. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and wondering how much longer the ascent would take us.

The next morning we woke up to glorious sunshine and a couple of bananas and snickers bars fuelled us to the top in a mere two and a half hours. Very strange. Clearly, I prefer going uphill to downhill. The bus ride back to Arequipa was amazing - we were able to see the beautiful views this time.

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We spent a night in Arequipa on either side of our Colca Canyon adventure. Arequipa  reminded me a lot of Antigua in Guatemala. Even though it rained for a large chunk of our time there I still loved the city due to its colourful buildings, interesting main square and the ease with which we found plenty of delicious food including a special meal at Zig Zag where the trio of meats we shared included alpaca.

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The highlight of our time in Arequipa, and one of the best activities of our entire trip, was a Peruvian cooking class where we made mouth-watering ceviche and then fish fillet in a delicious spicy tomato sauce.

The class was in stark contrast to the “cooking class” I arranged in Essaouira, Morocco which consisted of our French-speaking housekeeper explaining an entire recipe in French to Celine (the only French speaker in our group) who then translated it into English. There was no practical aspect and not a morsel of Moroccan yumminess touched our lips. Here, we tasted or sniffed all of the raw ingredients and once we finished cooking we sat down to eat everything together. I can’t wait to get home and host a Peruvian dinner party.

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We also spent a lovely afternoon wandering the Monasterio Santa Catalina, a convent which takes up a whole block of the city. Painted in bright colours and with potted geraniums in every empty corner, it’s a really peaceful corner of the city.

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Arequipa (and Colca Canyon) was one of those special places that I was sad to leave. Not bad at all for a detour.

Next stop...Cusco and Salkantay Trek, Peru.

Posted 13 April 2015