A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 72 HOURS IN SOUTH AMERICA
A lot can happen in 72 hours.
My first glimpse of South America was from the plane as I was flying into Santiago in the first leg of my long day’s travel to Peru to meet Emma. She had been away for over a month and already explored Brazil and Argentina before heading to the US so we agreed to meet in Lima, rest overnight and then head into Cusco for our altitude acclimatization prior to exploring the Ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. It was a sunny day and the coast of Chile looked very, very inviting. I was already looking forward to my four days here at the end of the trip.
The three hour layover and five and half hour fight to Lima was not so inviting but it passed without incident and despite my exhaustion I was finally going to start exploring South America. I meet Emma at our hotel, the JW Marriott which is on the cliffs of Lima, and after some hugs and hello’s we headed out in search of a Pisco Sour and some Peruvian seafood.
My senses were heightened and I was ready to take it all in. There is nothing so great as the first time you discover something new – just like falling in love and getting lost in the chemical haze of finding your soul mate. Nothing phases you, the world is the most beautiful place and you have found something that no one else could every understand or comprehend or at least so you believe. So here I was in Miraflores surrounded by new smells, olive skinned and well dressed Peruvian people out for the night with family, friends and loved ones crowded into cafés and restaurants engaged in energetic Spanish dialogue. It was beyond cool and life and work back home started to dissolve from my memory very, very quickly.
They say it never rains in Lima. I have no idea if that is actually true but there is certainly an infectious optimism about the place. As the capital of Peru, a country with over thirty million people, Lima is home to around a third of the population making it is a fast, bustling and vibrant city. Its located on the Pacific Coast and is mostly flat being both subtropical as well as dessert nestled in the valley that is home to the Chillon, Rimac and Lurin rivers. The welcome sea breezes mean the city is actually cooler than you would expect and with a checkered history that includes the Inca Empire, Spanish Conquistadors and Argentinian occupation the architecture is diverse with Baroque, Art Noveau, European and indigenous buildings layered together. The society and culture a blend of Andean, African, European and Asian so the food was the most surprising element of my trip that I had not expected and I was in the gastrominal capital of the America’s. I later learnt that perhaps Cusco should wear this crown but I was committed to a food journey in Peru. So I ate, drank, caught up with Emma and her adventures so far, then collapsed into the first bed I have seen in two days. Hola Peru!
The next day we flew to Cusco. We stayed in the old city just off the main market square in a gorgeous cobbled stoned street at the beautiful
Casa Adina Private Collection hotel. What an incredible city, great food, breathtaking architecture and sensational restaurants. We took it pretty easy and let our bodies get used to the altitude and spent the day exploring, napping and shopping then we dined in the main square at a place called Cicciolina. It was the kind of meal that just kept getting better and better. My main was a quinoa seafood dish with a Spanish twist that was as good as I have eaten anywhere and the waiter was sexy as, which always makes a meal more memorable! We laughed and let the Pisco Sours consume us. We were already planning our dinner for the return trip after Machu Picchu wishing we had more time but determined to enjoy the famous Mama Africa.
Early the next morning we set off for Aguas Calientes through the Scared Valley to finally get to our Inca destination. The trip was not great, our bus was over crowded so Emma and I sat up front with the driver and being an organised tour it was full of unnecessary stops and tourist traps. We finally reached Ollantaytambo after lunch to take the Vistadome train into the mountains. The train ride was incredible. The glass sides and ceiling allowed an unimpeded panoramic view of the Andes for 2 hours as we headed to the small village of Aguas Calientes.
This tiny town, that literally takes 5 minutes to walk from one side to the other, is nestled in a deep gorge between two rivers and enclosed by steep cliffs with no way in and out except by train. It’s the gateway to Machu Picchu and the hotels, restaurants and shops are all build around the main square on steep sloping streets. It was nearly dark when we arrived so we had little time to explore but finally Machu Picchu was within our reach.
Before dinner I went to grab a beer across the road from our hotel and, in true Amanda style, managed to adopt a beautiful street dog and convince the café owner to feed it. Every time I walked outside the hotel she was waiting for me and if I could have I would have smuggled her back home but she was healthy and well cared for by the locals as was all the street dogs in this village. Again I was filled with the desire to have more time to really explore.
The next morning we were up at 5am and on the bus to climb the steep mountain and see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. Little did we know that this would be the day that everything changed.