Well, we were up and away to a great start to our holiday, with some business class seats on a direct Qantas flight from Sydney to fabulous Buenos Aires.
Our two-week trip would take us from Buenos Aires to Peru, and back again, so first time around was a quick overnight stay before an early morning flight to Lima. Not much time for sightseeing, but plenty of time to convince my girlfriend to change her wicked vegetarian ways and have a steak, accompanied with an Argentine merlot and a restaurant that was buzzing with the energy and vitality that is so quintessentially BA.
Next morning, we headed to the airport as it seems most Argentines were heading home from a night out, and boarded our LAN flight for Lima.
I have to say, flying in South America has one definite advantage — those beautiful ladies. I spent the whole flight with a smile on my face.
From Lima we fly to Cusco. Nestled in a valley in the Andes, it sits at a breathtaking altitude of 3400 metres. Flying in over the Andes was spectacular — as long as you’re not afraid of flying — whenever I looked across at Rebekah, she was a ghostly shade … apparently the sight of mountains just outside the plane window was making her nervous?
The site of Incan ruins, Spanish cathedrals and hundreds of tourists preparing to conquer Machu Picchu in their own way, Cusco is a friendly, colourful town on top of the world. Despite feeling like a bar bell had been dropped on our chests, we managed to see some of the sights, and sample some local delicacies. Inca Cola was a hit, roast guinea pig was not. Then, after three days of acclimatising, it was time to tackle the Inca Trail.
A few hours out of Cusco is the town of Ollantaytambo where we started our four-day adventure. The rolling green slopes, the occasional donkey and picturesque mountains in the background lulled me into a false sense of security. How hard can it be? And relationships are all about compromise (this was not my choice), so off we go!
Three hours in, and my heart was in my mouth and I sounded like Darth Vader. I was already close to losing it, and the worst was yet to come, so our guide kept saying. Day two we would ascend over one kilometre to the highest point of the trek, 4190 metres — Dead Woman’s pass. Was I meant to read anything into that name?
Let’s just say there were some doubts, but with a little bit of cursing and a very supportive partner, I made it to the pass without becoming a dead woman. If I’d had any breath left, the scenery along the way would have been breathtaking, and given we weren’t exactly racing up the mountain, we had plenty of time to take in the spectacular panoramas.
Day three was a little wet (it was the wet season after all), but with amazing ruins and plenty of downhill runs to offset the two mountain passes, it was a long but rewarding day of trekking. The highlight of the day was definitely a detour just before camp, which took us to Incan ruins perched on a ridge gazing out over the statuesque Andes and looking down upon the sacred Urubamba River — a sight so beautiful that all the exhaustion seemed to drop away.
We were up before daybreak the next morning, and followed the very same road built by the Incans over 600 years ago, which wound its way into the Incan citadel in the sky. Appearing out of the mist, and perched on a peak among the majestic and humbling mountains, Machu Picchu is a place where it is important to take some time to sit and take it all in. The nooks and crannies of the ruins are intriguing, but it is the mystique and spirit of Machu Picchu that are most striking and memorable.
The trek was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. A kaleidoscope of emotions and landscapes, shared with some new friends in our tour group and generous locals. I can’t recommend it enough!
We trekked with a local company, organised by a tour operator called Chimu, who provided us with a knowledgeable guide, and porters whose back-breaking efforts got our gear up and over the mountains, while we were just trying to get ourselves there.
From Machu Picchu, we made our way to the shores of Lake Titicaca via yet more stunning scenery courtesy of the Andes. The luxurious Orient Express train wound its way through the high plateaus of Peru, while we wined, dined and photographed our way through the journey.
After a wonderful two weeks in Peru, we made our way back to Buenos Aires for our final few nights in South America. We installed ourselves in an apartment in Palermo Soho, a funky suburb not too dissimilar to our native Darlinghurst, and shopped and ate our way through five fabulous days and nights. What a wonderful city — vibrant, energetic, just a little bit crazy and everything we hoped it would be. Gay bars, family steakhouses, graffiti-ridden streets, and generous locals are just some of the things this wonderful metropolis has to offer.
info: For more on South American tour options talk to Out Travel, or visit www.outandabouttravel.com.au
What: 2011 Out Travel Expo
When: Wednesday, March 2
Where: Kinselas , Taylor Square