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South America Overland Day 4&5 return to the ship

Final altitude challenge, civil unrest, salt mines and Pisco toasts

semi-overcast 24 °C

After Machu Picchu, it was all uphill on day 4 of our South America Overland excursion. From the elevation of Ollantaytambo at 2,792 m up to 3,500 m at Moray before ending up at Cusco at 3,400 m. All well above the height where some effects of altitude start to occur. After overnighting in Cusco we headed back down to sea level at Lima to rejoin the ship and recover.

Day 4

We start the day with the views of the mountains and the Alpakas chewing on the grass.

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Before being confronted and embarrassed at breakfast with the lycra-clad bodies of a gang of middle-aged German Cyclists. At this stage the idea of cycling around the mountains makes me reach for the oxygen.

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After recovering our breath, we pile into the van and take a short trip to the Inka ruins of the temple of the Sun. Calling them ruins seems a bit of an injustice as the huge terraces are still in place and remain aligned with the sunrise over the mountain at the important dates of the year including summer and winter solstice and the equinox. Louis, our guide had done his first archaeological work at this site and was keen to tell us about what was found and how that demonstrated the sophistication of the builders.

From here we headed up the Sacred Valley and turned off at the mountain which looks like a giant frog. (no kidding). Another drive up a series of hairpin bends brought us to a lookout where we could see some of the valley below and I had the opportunity to do my trick with the 360-degree camera.

We continued up to Moray where we certainly felt the higher altitude and at the same time were stunned by the circular crop terraces which were apparently used as an agricultural research station with each of the terraces having a different micro-climate for testing crop yields. We passed on the opportunity to walk down into the circles (and back up)

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From here we continued our holiday with a trip to the Salt Mines at Maras. Almost as crazy as it sounds, there was another series of hairpin bends on a dirt road not quite wide enough for two vehicles and then a view of some pools where salty spring water is evaporated and salt is harvested.

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Again we opted not to do the long walk to the bottom and climb back to the road. It was interesting to hear that the complex is now owned and operated as a cooperative by local families from the nearby towns after a strike against the previous government ownership. The enterprise is now thriving as a tourist attraction contributing more to profits than the actual salt production with a series of vans going in and out while we were there at around $10 per tourist. Also interesting was the discussion of the different salt grades produced and marketed. The top layer is white and sold as pure salt, the bottom layer is muddy brown and sold as industrial salt. the middle layer is a bit of a mixture and is now sold as "Pink Salt" at the same prices as the pure salt of the top level.

There were of course a series of stalls selling souvenirs, salt and ice cream, plus some excellent salted dark chocolate.

From the salt pools, we headed back up the hairpin bends then off to Cusco for Lunch, shopping and an overnight stay.

Lunch was again with Jamie's Peruvian fixer. Her family has extensive interests in tourism and she had come to Cusco to see us off. More authentic food was served. This time in a historic house which now operates as a function centre.

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More driving in the old part of Cusco involved testing the van breaks by driving down cobbled streets not quite wide enough for the van and any pedestrians with a slope suitable for ski jumping practice. A complicated manoeuvre required different stops to unload the luggage and then the passengers was executed to bring us to our hotel. Kathy and I were feeling tired, so skipped the walking tour (which had hill descents and climbs) and tried to get some rest. That evening the group arranged without Jamie to go to a close by restaurant which advertised the best Cuy (Roast Guinea Pig) in Cusco. We had the vegetarian pizza and tipped the musician playing background music.

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Day 5

Everybody in the group had some trouble sleeping even before the 4 a.m. wake-up call. A packed breakfast was provided and we headed for the airport for our return to Lima. We said goodbye to Luis who had been an excellent guide and checked in and then cleared security. Jamie did his normal shameless and inexplicably effective con job and our group was allowed to board in the priority queue as was somehow always the case.

The short flight was uneventful and being back at sea level was good although it took a while to kick in. One of our group was still feeling unwell and so was escorted directly back to the ship. It was a feature of the tour that Jamie never asked the group about what they wanted to do. I suspect that at the point we arrived back in Lima if he had asked how many wanted to return to the ship it may well have been about half. However, we continued on with the tour of Lima and mostly felt better as the day wore on.

We did a walking tour of the centre of Lima, visiting the Place Mayor with the cathedral and major government buildings. We passed a small picket line of some sort and there was a bigger demonstration planned for later in the day so while we were in the main square all sorts of police units were assembling and starting to barricade the square. This was all treated as normal by Jamie and our Lima guide and nothing eventuated while we were there.

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We walked past an old Italian restaurant which we were told was a previous haunt of Ernest Hemmingway. Easy to believe as it looked inside and outside exactly like the bar in Havanna we had visited.

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We continued on to a souvenir shop where by arrangement we had a tasting of various types of Pisco. (See tomorrow's blog for more info on Pisco) Every sample had a toast both in Spanish and in Quechua (the main local language in Peru). This seemed to improve everyone's mood and we headed off for Lunch.

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Lunch of course was at an authentic restaurant serving cuisine from one of the provinces of Peru. The food was great but by this time I was dreaming of returning to the ship for a cheeseburger and chips.

There was one more stop at a food market before we headed to the pick-up point for the ship.

The area of the port where the ship docked is considered too dangerous even to let people on and off shuttles and pick up taxis. So the shuttle to and from the ship operates from Miraflores, some 40 minutes from the port. Here there is a seaside shopping centre and it is considered safe enough for passengers to wander around. Jamie has done this tour many times so was well aware of this arrangement, however, the shopping centre used had changed from previous cruises and as we were doing a private tour I had to confirm with the ship before we got off what was the address we had to return to. We did later run into another couple on the ship who had disembarked at Manta to visit family. They had not been told about the return arrangements in Lima and were very lucky to have arrived at the port gates at the same time as a ship shuttle and had been able to convince the police to let them on.

We queued for and boarded the shuttle without incident except there were questions about why we had luggage and if we needed to go through a customs check. All was OK and we returned to what we are now calling home and collapsed into bed with a room service burger to dream of Alpakas and Machu Picchu Beer.

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Posted by StephenJBrown 21:07 Archived in Peru Tagged machu_picchu lima pisco

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