21 Days… Adventure Travel in Peru and Bolivia
Story by Sandra Rutter
Agua! Agua con gas! Agua! Agua sin gas!
These words shouted by local women selling bottled water, bean snacks and handicrafts at every stop along the way, punctuated the 21 days I spent on a Tucan Adventure Tour, travelling around Peru and Bolivia in March and April 2001. It is always the little details we notice most when travelling, rather that the sweeping vistas around us. The bottled water was a necessity – most of us used it even to brush our teeth, although I soon tired of this. Haggling for handicrafts proved addictive. And I spent a minor fortune on the broad bean snacks, my dependancy on which evaporated as soon as I returned home
But food is not really what one travels to Peru for, even if alpaca steaks and skewers of guinea pig are often on the menu. Everyone knows where one has to go – Machu Picchu, the famed Inca city high in the Andes. Hang the fragility of the place and the swarming bus tours. Stuff the lines of trekkers along the Inca Trail, many of them sucking on coca leaves mixed with ash to offset the effects of the altitude and exhaustion. Ignore that their behaviour is an imitation of Inca messengers before the arrival of the Spanish and their ‘guns, germs and steel’. It is a wonder and therefore must be seen.
This unfairly flippant perspective belies the very real sense of awe I felt on the eighteenth of April 2001, sitting and watching the dawn appear over the Sun Gate, clouds rising in diagonal bands as though from the centre of the earth itself, hit by the emerging sun, then lifting to reveal the binary oppositions of light and shadow and the terraces and roofless structures which cling to the shallow half-bowl of the hillside.
Is there more to Peru and Bolivia than the remains of an imperial civilisation, one which conquered or allied itself to its neighbours to dominate these areas? There is. A lot more. Islands teeming with wildlife? Check – Islas Ballestos, a fragrant mix of Pacific salt, sea lions, penguins and birds with their accompanying guano. World Heritage listed mysterious lines and shapes carved into hillsides and across a vast plain in the desert? Check – at Nazca, which also boasts sun-dried skeletons as well. Wild vicuna grazing on the oxygen-deprived altiplano? Swooping condor and thermal springs? Check. And check. And the dramatically majestic landscape of the Colca canyon itself. Mud, rainforest, capybara tracks and pirana fishing in the Amazon? Check – at Puerto Maldonado. The reed rafts and icy depths of Taquile and Amantini Islands on Lake Titicaca. Twenty-one days proved far too few for me to truly see, marvel at, explore and learn about the riches and the poverty of these countries.
Book-ending all of this is Lima, Peru’s capital city, built by the Spanish, the centre of which is dominated by Plaza Mayor, its imposing cathedral, and the permanent home of Pizarro’s tomb and a weight of Peruvian Catholic iconography. The cathedral itself was dressed up for Easter when I began my tour. The remainder of the tour was spent far from the noise and smog of the capital. And after the tour, with time to kill waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires, I spent the day in Miraflores, the garden suburb of the capital and apparently its social hub. Close to the Pacific, this also proved to be a great place to be filmed drinking salted orange juice whilst being interviewed for a local comedy show by a man in a giant cat costume. Una chica linda! (a cute girl) indeed.