November 2018

A quest for inca's history, my travel trough Peru and Bolivia

By: Paolo Scarrone
Projects Abroad Volunteer

When travelling through South America, it is always tough to pick what to see among all the beauty this continent has to offer. With just ten days available, our intention was to catch a glance of the pomp of what the legendary Inca Empire used to be. Our focus landed on a historic, and quite touristic, journey through Peru and Bolivia. This travel included the cities of Lima, Cusco, Copacabana, and finally La Paz.

A fellow traveller knows that when travelling through South America, comfort is not the primary concern. This does not mean that the cheaper solution will not be the better choice. We decided to move from place to place always using a bus, even when the plane could seem the easier way, even if we had to take an overnight bus and stay in there for 21 hours.

The first place we visited was Lima, the capital of Peru. This was a judgment call more than a free choice since I was in Bolivia and my girlfriend was leaving from Italy. Lima seemed the most comfortable and with the closest airport to begin our itinerary.

Lima is a real modern-day metropolis. With over 11 million inhabitants, the city is growing every day, and even the shortest itinerary will take a while when covered with a taxi. As a foreign tourist, this city could look big and scary, and as a matter of fact, crime is something to be aware about, especially when walking the streets at night. Being aware of this situation, we decided to take the conventional advice of looking for a hostel in the safest part of the city, Miraflores. This area is a modern and quite rich neighborhood. It is enjoyable to walk down its street during the night and stop in some of its crowded bars to enjoy a Pisco Sour, the typical drink from Peru that finds its peculiarity in the addition of an egg white to the Pisco liquor.

If interested in history, in Lima it is possible to visit different Huacas, old ruins belonging to the Inca Empire, here and there in the city. Anyway, the main attraction of historical interest consists in the ethnographic museum. Here you will find a large number of relics from the Inca Empire. The museum makes available a guided tour that will help the visitor orient himself through the elements of the collection.

One thing that is almost mandatory to experience when in Peru is its food. This country is famous for its gastronomy that reaches its peak with Ceviche, a delicacy made of fish, often served raw and with a side of corn and onions. Always be careful about where and what you eat. Especially for foreigner tourists, it is easy not to be accustomed to certain type of food, or the way the food itself is cooked. Bringing a stomach coater and being careful can save you from a strong stomach ache and an unpleasant experience. Anyway, it is common to get sick because of food the first days you visit South America. The important thing to remember is to keep calm and stay hydrated, obviously not drinking tap water. In case the pain is too intense to talk to a doctor, the emergency system in Lima works well.

After a couple of days, we left Lima on an overnight bus to Cusco. The trip was quite long; it took us 21 hours to get there. The bus was comfortable and we were served dinner and breakfast. We spent around 50 dollars for our ride, it is to be considered that there are cheaper buses, but for such a long trip we decided to use a bus-cama. Cama translates to "bed," and it is often an option when travelling in South America. These kinds of buses are comfortable and well equipped the best choice for a long ride.

During the travel, we were offered Sorojchi pills, a medicine to overcome the notorious Sorojchi, the sickness caused by the altitude, often a matter in Peru and Bolivia. I was already quite used to altitude but the pill helped my girlfriend through the huge altitude change form Lima, close to the seaside, and Cusco, at about 4,000 meters. Symptoms of Sorojchi, manly are headaches, nausea, difficulty in breathing, and debilitation. It will not last long, after one or two days your body will get use t it, but it can get annoying when you are still struggling with it. Locals use coca leaves to fight it. When the coca leaves are put in hot boiled water you can get a tasteful mate, similar to a common tea that will help your body accustom to the altitude.

That of the Coca plant is an ancient and wide culture in all of South America. Incas used in various ways, including surgery, as a numbing agent. Nowadays Coca leaves are still commonly used between South Americans, its use can resemble to the one we Europeans have of coffee.

Once in Cusco we settled and rested a bit after the largest bus ride of our lives, the day after we would have seen one of the seven wonders: Macchu Pichu. When you go to Macchu Pichu, it is always better to book your entrance tickets with a wide advance (at least one month), especially during June and July, the high season. The trip from Cusco to Agua Calientes and then Macchu Pichu is quite expensive, especially when compared to South American prices. Some tourists decide to spend the night directly in Agua Calientes to avoid an early three-hour train ride in the morning. We decided to stay in Cusco and book the second round of visits to the mountain (11:30-17:00). Even if we booked the afternoon visit, we had to wake up early and rush to the train station to catch our train at 6:30 in the morning. Once in Agua Calientes, the ruins can be reached walking (one hour hiking) or with a 10-minute bus ride. Once we got there, we started looking for a guide. The site does not provide official guides so if you do not want to book one on the internet, you can easily look for a guide outside the site, in most of the cases they will come to talk to you.

Visiting Macchu Pichu left us speechless. It is always astonishing to finally be looking with your own eyes at something you saw on postcards for all of your life. I will not spend too many words on the visit. Luckily, the guide proved to be nice and knowledgeable, and except for the weather (it was pouring rain), the visit went on pleasantly. What really amazed us about this site was not particularly its beauty; it's its location instead. On the top of the mountain, this city used to be the place designated for rich people and future leaders of the empire. Thanks to its location and the efforts made by the Incas, this site was not discovered and shown to the world until 1911, when Hiram Bingham reached the top of the mountain.

Anyway, Cusco is not only famous because of Macchu Pichu. All of its area, the Sacred Valley, is full of ancient Inca ruins. In order to see as much as we could, we booked a planned one-day trip around the most famous sites around. For a reasonable price (85 Soles) we visited Moray and Maras, where the famous sallies are, Chinichero, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and finally Pisaq. We figured out this was the best and cheapest way to see as much as we could. If you have the chance to spend more time in Cusco, the Rainbow Mountain with its incredible colors, and Humantay Lake are places you want to visit.

Our bus ride to Copacabana, a small town on the Titicaca Lake, close to the Bolivian border, was a real adventure. In a small pueblo close to Puno, we encountered a street riot. The bus could not go any farther and we had to walk our way to the bridge in the city center, where supposedly another bus would have waited for us and brought us to the Copacabana. After a good five kilometers of walking with our heavy backpacks, we finally reached the bridge. As soon as we got there, we realized how heated the situation was getting and that crossing the bridge would not have been a good idea. The campesinos, how people working in the fields are called in South America, were strongly protesting against a new law. The bridge was fully crowded, and the situation risked getting out of hand when some rocks started to be thrown.

After a while, we started talking to the police and to some locals, until we understood it was safe enough to cross the bridge. Once we got on the other side, we understood that our bus company had already left, leaving us and some other passengers stranded. Fortunately, we met some fellow travellers who managed to get us in their bus and we finally reached Copacabana after a quite unique experience.

In Copacabana we had the chance to relax a bit, watching the beauty of Titicaca Lake. Copacabana is a quiet place; small and friendly, it is a good layover for you to rest and be prepared for the next adventure. Once you are there, it would be nice to make use of the countless organized trips to the islands close to the beach. For instance, we joined a tour that was going to both the islands Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol. While Isla de la Luna was a bit of a letdown, Isla del Sol was a nice place to take a walk and enjoy its natural beauty and eat something local. Keep in mind that you are visiting extremely touristic places, and everything has its price. Going to the bathroom costs two Bolivianos, and be aware if you want to take a picture to of some llama, that could cost you five bolivianos, each (true story)!

Our stay in Copacabana was peaceful and got us ready for our last stop: La Paz. The bus ride just took us four hours, but as soon as we entered the city we were thrown in one of the biggest traffic jams I have ever seen in my life. The traffic in La Paz is unreal, especially during rush hour. Because of this chaotic introduction, our first impression of the city has not been positive. With just one day to visit such a huge city, we decided to do something we had never done before: booking two tickets on the big, red bus that goes around the city site seeing. We were extremely skeptical about the ride, especially because of its touristic look. Anyway, the bus ride went on pleasantly and the guide was really prepared and helpful. Something that from the outside always looked as the last thing in my mind to visit ended up being a nice way to see a whole city when all you got is just one day to visit. The bus ride took us up until the southwest part of the city where the beautiful valley Valle de la Luna is. This valley consists of anciently formed rocks that form a great view.

Once in La Paz we understood that it would have been a pity to visit the city and not have a ride on the cable railway, the Teleferico. This modern and efficient system allows people from the city use to move around it. It consists of different lines, exactly like a common metro railway, with glassed cabins circulating above the city. Thick iron wires move them, and it is the best way for tourists like us to take breathtaking aerial pictures of La Paz. We took the Blue line that rides above the city center, and once we got into the yellow line we were able to get up until the city of El Alto. If you want to visit the capital of Bolivia, get ready for climbs and downhills. The city center is at 3,640 meters above sea level, while the city of El Alto reaches 4,150 meters above sea level.

After this trip, we traveled back to Cochabamba to say goodbye to my lovely hosting family, before going back to Italy for good. South America left so many good memories in my mind, and this trip was the best way to end my amazing experience.

Hombres de paz – voces libres
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