- Puno – Cusco
- Andean Explorer Bus
So my time in Cusco was broken up, due to my participation in various activities of organised fun (Inca Trail and the Amazon Jungle). Inca and the Amazon have their own posts but here is an account of my stray days in Cusco. And might I say, Cusco is a really wonderful city, full of character and charm!
First off, I was booked on to an Andean Explorer bus out of Puno. What this meant was that I had various stops along the route where we would get off the bus to see an attraction. These included Andauaylillas, Raqchi, La Raya and Pukara, all of which had a link to Inca traditions and heritage. My favourite place was the Inca ruins at Raqchi which was originally an Inca town and really gave me my first insight in to Inca architecture and general unbelievable knowledge.
When I arrived to Cusco at 6pm that evening, reuniting with Naomi once more, I was ordered to Organika restaurant for food! It turned out to be a great little place, just beyond the main square in Cusco, Plaza de Armas. And the food was all fresh produce, locally grown and super yummy. Despite Naomi’s hangover, we then went for drinks at the hostel bar. As it turns out, Pisco Sour happy hour is dangerous at 3600m altitude and before long we were suitably drunk.
To correctly continue the night, we then entered the beer pong competition as team “P12” (note Rio reference), first defeating an all-boy team, then making it to the finals. Apparently having to wait over an hour and a half before the final was a dangerous move for us as we made our way to the table a little worse for wear. Consequently, a few of our drinks were knocked over (by me) and our aim was off so we didn’t win, despite our best efforts to act in a distractingly seductive manner. But we vowed to enter another tournament to regain some dignity at the beer pong table!
Our night continued from Milhouse to Chango’s club, the hottest, most Gringo-filled club I’ve been to in my life! But fun nonetheless. Even Freddie and Augustin joined us there, along with the two boys we’d lost beer pong too. It wasn’t long before I lost Naomi in the crowds and the night was getting on a bit. And with many a dance and drink behind me, I head home, showered and went to bed.
Still drunk, I made it to breakfast to catch up on the night before with Naomi. The bread and jam was unsurprisingly insufficient to feed our hangovers and we head to Jack’s cafe for a typical British brunch. Although, our incredible food was accompanied by dropping eyes and a nap was very much needed. First up, we head to San Pedro market; a giant warehouse designed by Mr Eiffel (of the Eiffel Tower) in which all the local traders have a stall. Although very touristy and not really suited to the camping needs we required, it was still a really cool place to explore.
Back at the hostel and re-powered on sleep, we bumped in to a few guys from the night before to laugh about our drunk antics. I FaceTimed home and then we head next door for crepes and coffee, con dulce de leche, obviously.
We spent our evening in the bar, with water and cups of tea, waiting for pizza night to begin. Yes it’s true, all we’d done with our day was eat, but the pizza was incredible and the hangover was busted. It was also not so acceptable to eat that much when you’re on your own and since Naomi was off on her Machu Picchu jungle trek the next day, I was making the most of being a socially accepted pig!
I had to be productive the next day and stock up on the things I needed to complete the Inca Trail. First up, I had been told about the local black market where they sold fake Northface, Adidas, etc. Perfect for everything I needed. It took me a while to find it, past San Pedro market and circling the local meat market several times, but eventually I bagged some sports and hiking stuff for less than £5 per item. I decided to reward my efforts with a second trip to Jack’s for lunch.
At Jack’s, I met 3 girls who invited me to join them at lunch. They were lovely company, giving me tips for further North in Peru. Although, one of them took a bit of a turn whilst eating and ended up fainting from the altitude. Luckily the staff were used to Gringoes dropping like flies and were on hand to sort her out safely. I left the girls early as I wanted to do the city walking tour that afternoon and then met up with the group in another of Cusco’s many plazas.
The tour was really interesting. From the history of Peru and Bolivia’s separation, the influence of Bolivar in all of South America’s history, the local soldier school and the many, many, earthquake-resistant, impeccable inca structures around the city. If you want a good tour in Cusco, I could not recommend Free Tours by Foot enough.
Back at the hostel, I finally met the girls in my room after 2 nights of missing each other. It turned out that Nina, one of the Swedish girls, was also on my Inca Trail and we both had our briefing at 6pm that night. There we met the rest of the group, all couples, and with Nina also happily loved up, it looked as though I’d be flying the single flag alone for the next 4 days. I also saw Lorna and Beth from La Paz, who had just returned from their Inca trek. They gave me lots of tips for equipment and the likes so that I could prepare appropriately. I spent my evening with them, shopping, eating and then packing my bags, before they set off for their bus. I had to make sure my bag was as light as possible since I was the only one of my group of 8 who hadn’t opted in for the porter and “superior” package. Therefore, I was carrying all my stuff the entire 42km’s length and 1400km ascent of the trek!
My next 4 days were spent Inca’ing which you can read about here.
My return to Cusco was a happy one. This time staying at Parawana Hostel, i.e. the hostel with big, comfy beds, 2 pillows and a great breakfast! It was a perfect night’s sleep to let my tired little body recover from what had been an utterly incredible Inca experience.
I awoke to a great hostel breakfast and the smiley face of Naomi the next morning. Aubrey was also staying at the same hostel so it was nice to all have a big catch up. Naomi had a fabulous story involving a man named Harry. And this same story took us up to Wild Rover to retrieve some of her stuff later that morning. It worked perfectly for us because the tour agency that we wanted to book our Amazon jungle trip with were just down the road. $240 poorer and with possessions returned we had a morning milkshake in the Wild Rover bar and then head to Jack’s for lunch (of course, it’s our favourite place!).
The afternoon was spent half productively as I had a few admin things to sort out for my job. Both of us were quite eager to chill out in the afternoon so we went to the TV room, searched through Netflix and settled on watching Trainspotting. We also knew it was about time we started saving money so cooked a pasta to share for dinner after.
That evening the bar was hosting a pub quiz and team P12 were ready to try and gain some glory following our loss in the beer pong final the previous week. Although we thought we were exceptional masters of trivia, the staff at Parawana thought otherwise and we didn’t place in the Top 3. The good news was that it was Monday again which meant that Milhouse was hosting their beer pong competition. We opted to miss karaoke in favour of a beer pong win and head around the corner to our previous hostel for more drinks.
Team P12 resumed their battle ground positions however the competition was tough. Alas, we didn’t make it through round 1, blaming the loss on being too sober this time around. We did however see Aidan and Bas once more, who we’d beat in round 1 the week before. We ended up sharing drinks with them and a few of their friends and then heading out for the night with the same group.
Naomi and I had investigated Chango’s first to find it empty and so the group chose to begin (I say begin, it was 2.30am) at Mamma Africa’s on the main square. Naomi left us shortly after when we took the group eventually around to Chango’s. It was still the sweatbox that it had been previously and still full of Gringoes, but it was a fun night. Outside at 5.15am I bumped in to the guy who had served us at Wild Rover that morning. He suggested we go to the club next door with two others from Wild Rover and I soon found myself in a Peruvian heavy trance club, dancing like I was at a big night in Motion.
Finally, at 6am, I made it back home and in to bed. We were checking out that day so my sleep lasted all of 3 hours before Naomi had asked reception for a key to come and wake me up like the cutie that she is. It was a day of struggle city and we’d had such grand ideas before we were meant to head to the jungle. Instead, we followed breakfast with a walk to the travel agency to pick up our bus tickets and then to the main square, where we sat and enjoyed the rare Cusco sunshine. It wasn’t long before one of the many street vendors approached us – llama key chains, sunglasses, massages, city tours, paintings – although we did give in to the artist and the ‘lookie lookie’ sunglasses man.
Since both of us were somewhat fragile we returned to the hostel for a few hours before meeting Fran and Rhona for lunch at no other than Jack’s (I mean honestly, stick to what you know, right!?). It wasn’t long before my eyes drooped and I was napping in the sun doubting my ability to cope with lunch. However, with a combination of Naomi’s lack of sympathy and the promise of great brunch food, I made it to the cafe!
It was awesome to see the girls and hear about their Machu Picchu and jungle tours, as well as a few other funny stories along the way. We really made the most of our mothers meeting. Being back with Fran and Rhona also reignited the temptation to buy pointless tourist items that they always get so distracted by! However we did need a few last minute items for the jungle so it wasn’t all bad. My tired body could no longer support itself so I slumped around the stalls and shops, sitting at every possible opportunity before I was eventually allowed back to hostel comforts.
We spent the rest of the evening watching Friends on Netflix, making snacks for our overnight bus and sorting out our bags. At 8pm, Bas came over to get a cab with us to the bus station and off the three of us went, with Naomi and I matching in our edgy travelling trousers ready for jungle pictures!
You can read about my time in the Amazon jungle here.
Naomi and I arrived back from the jungle at 8pm on the 8th April, checking in this time to Wild Rover. You know, to continue our tour of Cusco’s hostels! It was Saturday night and of course we wanted to head out given our track record of drinking in Cusco. So, we dumped our bags, grabbed some dinner and then got ready for the night. It was happy hour at the bar so we made the most of two drinks for £1.75 and hopped on top of the bar to continue the night in good fashion!
Outside the bar we met our doppelgängers, Imogen and Polly, and ended up spending the rest of the night with them both. At 2am, when the bar closed, the four of us hopped in a taxi headed to Chango’s, again. But when we arrived Chango’s was charging 30 Soles to get in and between us, we had a grand total of about 7 Soles. You might think us mad to attempt a night out wihout cash or cards however, we were sufficiently wasted as it were and certainly didn’t need any more alcohol!
Since there was quite a group from our hostel without money, we began at Mama Africa’s and then moved on to another multi-storey club nearby that I don’t know the name of. By 5.30am, with dry mouths and sore legs, Naomi and I decided it time to head back and chose to walk (well, we didn’t have much choice given the lack of cash). We walked a few blocks too far but by and large found our way back okay and completely crashed out in bed!
A delightfully cheery Naomi woke up a delightfully hungover Gabby that next morning for breakfast. Of course, the bread and jam was insufficient after our incredible menu in the jungle and of course, we opted to follow the hostel breakfast with a Jack’s one. I struggled through my food and mango lasse in similar to fashion to the world’s slowest eater from before, whilst cheery Naomi still wasn’t feeling the effects of the previous night. As such, I desperately wanted to head back to bed and did just that for an hour once we got back.
Post-nap, we went wondering the streets of Cusco. Initially this was to do our laundry but we then realised it was time to actually venture a little beyond the main square. There we found a beautiful building which hosted Cusco’s courts of justice and some other fun little side streets. As we walked back, we finally gave in to a “massages, lady massages, 20 soles” lady. 5 minutes later and we were in our underwear receiving a couples full body massage for the equivalent of £5. Exactly what our hungover bodies needed and I was surprised by how much my muscles also needed it.
Relaxed and de-stressed (because travelling is extremely stressful), we walked our oily bodies back to the hostel for a healthy stir fry, some easy watching TV and then an early night. Still, the lump that was the guy in the bed below me had other ideas for my early night and him and his friends kept me up for a while longer, much to my annoyance.
For my final day in Cusco, although it seemed like I’d never leave, Naomi had some uni friends arrive. Joe, Will and Onya seemed to be a great laugh. They had a few things to sort out in the morning so we head to the Post Office to send a big parcel of stuff home and lighten my bag a little. We arranged to meet for brunch at you guessed it at 11 and I managed to maintain any lack of menu repetition during my 6 visits there.
It was finally time for us to get cultured in Cusco, so Naomi and I followed our brunch with a trip to the Inca museum just off Plaza de Armas. For 10 Soles, the place was massive! It had many rooms, up and downstairs, with lots of ceramics, metal and stone tools, tapestries and different legends of the Incas and their predecessors. I found the whole thing quite fascinating, despite my criticism at some of the replica models, and I know Naomi was in her element having studied archaeology and anthropogly at uni.
We’d had a fun and not hungover morning for once and returned to the hostel in good spirits. Our plan was to head up one of the big hills that afternoon for a glimpse at Cusco’s JC (Christo Blanco) but the storm had other plans for us. Instead, we hopped in a cab across town to retrieve some of Rhona and Fran’s left over belongings which I could return a few days later. We think it was perhaps armed forces day in Cusco as all the central roads were shut and parades occurring everywhere, making for an extremely stressful 30 minute taxi ride. The hostel was near enough to JC and had a great view across the city once the rain had stopped.
We chose to walk back across the hills, stopping to get some snacks for my overnight bus too. By this time it was t-2 hours until Naomi and I had to part after almost two months of travelling together. The saddest moment of my travels in South America so far. Trying not to think about 2 hours time, we returned to the bar and Naomi’s friends and ate some dinner, downloaded films, music and podcasts ready for my bus and generally enjoyed each other’s company.
And then it was time. An emotional goodbye to my fave gal pal and a sombre moment finally leaving the city where I’ve had some of my best nights and tours. A giant hug later and I was off in a taxi to the bus terminal, both sad about leaving and sad about again having to make new friends!
So, 165 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and Peru has already topped Brazil for my favourite country and I’m only two stops in! From all the fun nights out, excellent food and lovelypeople we met, to the place I had to depart ways with my travel bestie, Cusco has been an absolute dream with a very sad goodbye. I 100% will return.