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1 Jul
Street festival, Cusco, Peru

Cusco was starting its June festivities when we were there.

La Paz, Bolivia
[by Paula]

We’re going to make this a mostly photo-dominated post. And not just because we are lazy and really far behind with the blog – good heavens, how could you think such a thing?!

Genuinely, it feels like every word that could ever be said about Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley has been said a million times. Can there be many people in the world who don’t recognise this Peruvian scene?

Machu Picchu, Peru

Much of the focus in articles and blogs on the subject is about how best to navigate the logistical maze involved in planning your visit, especially when you are on a bit of a tight budget.

This is where things took a bit of a curve ball for us. Due to one of those right-time-right-place things, we ended up visiting Machu Picchu by train, as part of a complimentary 5-star hotel, spa and sight-seeing package that was provided by the tour company High Lives, so we could review it for the website Queen of Retreats. That should be published soon, and we’re looking forward to blogging on all that in more detail then. For now I’ll just leave you with a couple of our favourite dishes of that trip. Yum.

Our biggest challenge was trying to scrub up for four days of luxury hotels. We did our best, under the circumstances.

Hotel selfie

Despite this fortunate happenstance, we still had spectacularly low expectations of Machu Picchu. It seems that the more hyped and busy a place is, the more we believe we are just going to find it irritating. I know, for example, that the Acropolis and the Vatican are ‘must-sees’ in Europe. But I spent most of my time in both places wanting to kill someone. It’s not that we expect to have these world-famous sights to ourselves (that cheeky bugger Mick Jagger managed to get exclusive access to Machu Picchu in 2011, but he’s probably a much better tipper than we are), but it’s just that large gaggles of tourists often morph into idiotic buffoons, spoiling it for everyone and just asking to be slapped.

But guess what, we were proved wrong. Sure, it was very busy, but people went with the flow. Added to that, we had such an engaging, fantastically-informed guide that we were totally absorbed with what he was saying.

I know some people find the place a bit ‘meh‘. But our over-riding thoughts about the visit was, ‘wow those Incas really were something else’. The intelligent way they designed and built their cities and lived their lives – with 100% respect for the environment, the seasons, and the earth that fed them – was quite a sobering thought for the modern day.

We waited til things quietened down and spent time wandering on our own, before taking the obligatory ‘classic’ Machu Picchu photos.

Machu Picchu, Peru

By the time we got to that photo hot-spot, there were only two other people up there. I thought we’d be desperate to get out after an hour. In the end we didn’t want to leave.

But this part of Peru is not all about Machu Picchu. The whole Sacred Valley is awash with incredible Inca ruins and gorgeous scenery – including the genius terracing at Pisac and Moray, and the ruins outside the lovely town of Ollantaytambo.

Inca terraces, Moray, Peru

The terraces at Moray were an agricultural testing ground for the Incas.

And the pre-Inca salt pans at Maras are an astonishing sight as you come over the brow of the hill and see them filling the valley below from a scarily steep dirt road. We rather hurtled down this road, due to a spectacular fail in working out how long it would take us to get there. In one of those random travel moments, we’d received an email from a Dutch woman called Elise, who lives in Urubamba and runs a language school and cultural association.

She’d liked the look of our blog and wondered if we fancied meeting up for lunch. We agreed, and decided to ‘pop’ to Moray and the salt pans at Maras before our rendezvous.

All was going well until we realised we were running hopelessly late and found ourselves virtually flying down the track to Maras, eyes permanently on the clock. We looked round the place in record speed, doing it very little justice as it is bloody amazing, and ran back to the car.

Salt pans, Maras, Peru

We’d parked in the only space available, a steep slope with the van kind of hanging over an awkward bump where there was a railing, closely followed by a steep drop. As I tried to get out of the space, I stalled every time. I just couldn’t get enough grip to drag us out of this slippy dip. The timing was crap – we rarely have deadlines and this was not the time to get stuck! Jeremy’s vertigo was leading him to come over a bit funny at the mere thought that I was going to roll us backwards over the cliff.

I (not entirely gently) persuaded him to get a bunch of other visitors/taxi drivers to help us out. After a few attempts at pushing and a lot of sweat we were off and, with that, replacing our ageing tyres moved further up the shopping list.

Lunch with Elise

Lunch with Elise (right) and her colleague Emma.

At least our new gears allowed us to bomb it back to Urubamba, hoping that Elise had lived here long enough to have developed Latin America timekeeping. Luckily she had, and all was well for a delicious lunch and a boisterous chat.

And we mustn’t forget to mention Cusco itself, a gorgeous colonial city that can keep you amused for days. Granted, it’s also overrun with tourists – the most we’ve seen in one city during our whole trip – but somehow it manages to retain its character, albeit with a lot of foreigner-pleasing add-ons.

We’d spent a good chunk of time in Cusco and the surrounding valleys and still felt there was more we could see and do, but eventually dragged ourselves away.
We had another deadline to meet, and Bolivia was beckoning us back.

Days: 1,002
Miles: 20,841
Things we now know to be true: Never park in a hurry.