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Concentrating very, very hard!


Convent full of picturesque angles

The roads in the centre of the city today were full of school children, lined up and ready to march. Walking bands were interspersed between them. Down at the Plaza de Armas there was some sort of procession. We took a pew in one of the cafes to watch the proceedings. Apparently today is Pope's day, a local festival, and all the children are marching through town.

It was quite funny to watch them. There were tiny kids, probably no older than five or six, struggling to keep in time. The older ones were more serious and there were some great displays of goose stepping. Both the kids and their teachers looked really smart in their uniforms.

In the afternoon we visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which is a convent and has never been a monastery. In its heyday there were 175 nuns (500 people in total) in the convent, now there are only 30. Its a closed order and the nuns have virtually no contact with the outside world. They are commercially savvy though - they only live in a small part of the site which is the size of 4 football pitches in total, the rest is rented to a private company who provide tours for tourists.

The site is a rabbit warren of rooms and passages. When it was founded it was designed for members of the aristocracy. The eldest son and daughter in a family would get married (not to each other!). The second son had a choice - the army or the priesthood. If he chose the army the second daughter had no choice and was sent to the Monastery. In this way every family had someone in a religious order who would then spend their life praying for the wellbeing of other family members. Girls arrived there aged 12 and spent four years as novices. During this time they had no contact with the outside world or any of the nuns (as the nuns could have influenced their beliefs). At 16 they became nuns. But these were nuns with a difference!

Being from wealthy families they were well looked after. During their time as a novice their family built them their own private apartments (lounge, bedroom, kitchen and sometimes also a garden or courtyard) within the monastery. These were richly decorated and furnished with the finest table ware etc. Each nun had up to four maids to look after their every need. The nuns entertained each other and from the sounds of it had a good life. Outside of the monastery there were revolutions and the Spanish Inquisition so at least inside they had a protected life.

The only thing they didn't have was their freedom. Visits from family were few and far between and all were listened in to by another nun. A grille separated the nuns from their visitors so there could be no contact. Any presents, or shopping done by their maids, were all inspected by another nun.

In 1870 the then Pope decreed that this somewhat extravagant lifestyle for nuns had to come to an end. Gone were the private apartments, entertaining and maids. In came communal cooking, dining and sleeping. Not surprisingly, second daughters of wealthy families no longer wanted to come to this monastery and the population dwindled.

The old regime whilst lax in some ways was also strict in others. Nuns were not allowed to see themselves naked and had to bathe fully dressed. If male visitors (doctors, workmen) came to the monastery the nun who accompanied them was veiled and she rang a bell as she walked along so that all the other nuns could ensure they were not seen. It was a fascinating place to visit and well worth getting a guide to explain the background and context.

We also wanted to go the Museo Santuarios Andinos to see the Ice Maiden. This is the mummy of a young woman offered as a sacrifice who was found on a climbing expedition after a volcanic eruption melted ice that had been frozen for centuries. Unfortunately the museum is being refurbished and is closed and there is no information about where she may be in the interim. Instead, we stopped for a drink on a rooftop cafe with views on the back of the Catedral. We were entertained by several pairs of frisky pigeons who seem to have pretty elaborate courtship rituals.

This morning we got up early to get our bus to Puno. When we were checking out, the hotel confirmed that the bus strike is still on and as such we are stranded in Arequipa. Fortunately our room here is still available.

Today has been the laziest day of our trip so far. We have spent the day sunning ourselves in the hotel garden hoping that all will be sorted by tomorrow. I'm writing this in the early evening and expect that as the sun is now fading we'll spend some time tonight re-planning (again) the rest of South America and the start of Canada. Ecuador looks like it will be two weeks not three (unless we go to the Galapagos Islands) so we are about one month ahead of our initial plan!


VIP expected


Cuzco's Plaza de Armas


Pizzas in bed!

An early morning call confirmed that the strike is still on and there are no buses to Puno today or tomorrow. We reconsidered options. As we'll come back at some stage to "do" Bolivia, we can cover Lake Titicaca in that trip so we decided to head straight to Cuzco.

Giardino's Tours gave conflicting information as usual - one lady said today's flight to Cuzco is full. When I went back later to book for tomorrow  I thought I'd check again about today with the "miserable" lady (who was there when we went in about the Colca Canyon tour) and she said there were loads of seats left for today!! Another English couple who went to ask about fifteen minutes later were told the flight was full!

We packed up and said our farewells to Casa de Mi Abuela. Much as we'd had an enforced stay here, it has been a great hotel - good room, very friendly staff, great grounds and good food. We were told to be at the airport no later than 1:00pm (our flight is at 2:30pm) but to make sure we left loads of time in case there were problems with strikers. The hotel bus was going at 12:00 so we hopped on board.

At the airport we understood why they had said to allow so much time. The checking in process was painfully slow. Two flights to Lima had been cancelled this morning and when I had bought our tickets at Giardino's there were in a bit of a flap about it, trying to arrange alternative transport for people. At check in, they took our tickets to the office at the back an got on the phone - I fully expected problems but all was OK.

We then had time to kill. We paid our airport fee (not a tax, its to cover the cost of providing the airport and keeping it clean and secure) and went through into the departure lounge, It had a newsagent, gift shop but no cafe. Those in the know stayed on the other side until their flight was called. We had water with us though so it wasn't a problem.

The planes here come to into land, park up about twenty metres from the terminal building, everyone hops off and on and then they're off. The plane before outs turned around nose first to get back to the runway - it came so close to the building I thought it was going to hit it. Our flight, with Lan Peru, was a quick thirty minute hop, but a bit wobbly going over the hills. There was a huge military escort when we landed - not for us, Presidente Toledo is in town for the day.

We were met at the airport by yet another tour company representative. She was a bit dopey and neither of us warmed to her (the taxi driver was more welcoming). We sat through the obligatory session of her trying to plan our stay but decided to use a different company (partly because her English was probably at the same level as my Spanish). Stef did a tour of various different available rooms, settling for a double with a view which we might have to move from tomorrow as its pre booked. The room is sparsely furnished and has a very bouncy bed but the place seems friendly enough. It (Hostal Corihuasi) is a bit of a maze of houses connected together and is almost a mini village within the town.

As we'll be here for a few days we were in no rush to sight see and set out to get some impartial information from the official Tourist Information office. We were surprised to hear from the company that met us at the airport that it will cost us US$150 each to get to Machu Picchu but the official Tourist Info gave similar prices. Cuzco is going to be an expensive stay for us - our hotel is 50% more than we have paid for similar standard accommodation elsewhere!

The main Plaza de Armas is beautiful but in a different way to Arequipa. Arequipa had grand, colonnaded buildings which made an impressive and wealthy statement. Here the square is lower key, still colonnaded but with wooden balconies almost giving it a Germanic or Swiss feel. The centre is again based around a fountain with pretty flowerbeds and loads of benches for passing the time of day.

We did just that at one of the balcony cafe's. In less than half an hour it had turned dark and also started to get cold. Cuzco stretches up the surrounding hillsides and fairytale lights were dotted around into the distance. Getting cold we headed back uphill to our hotel. Stef had had a snack while we people watched and neither of us felt like going out again for a dinner. I had seen that the hotel could order take out food so we plumped for a night in, pizza and TV.

The room was cold and it took a while for the heater to kick in. We settled onto the bouncy bed with our sleeping bags wrapped round us waiting for the pizza. It wasn't the best I have ever had but was much better than El Mundo de la Pizza in Punta del Este in Uruguay!

Despite there being ninety-nine channels on TV there wasn't much to watch. We ended up watching A Fish Called Wanda - I have not see it before and it was pretty funny in a very British sort of way.

Today was our day for planning our stay in Cuzco. After breakfast we went in search of a good tour agency - there are absolutely loads of them here. The first one we tried (from the Lonely Planet "bible" and recommended) was at the back of an internal courtyard. Even though it was 10:30a, it looked shut but someone opened the door and called us in as we were walking away. For a tour company in the tourist high spot of Perú Stef was not impressed that they could not speak English so we walked away.


The Inca flag still flies over Cuzco

We plumped for another Lonely Planet recommendation, Milla Tourismo. Only later did we realise that they did not run tours themselves, we were simply pooled together with people from other companies. We ended up booking to "do" everything by tour - city and local archeological sites this afternoon, Sacred Valley tomorrow, Machu Picchu Monday and we also booked our lights back to Lima on Tuesday. They have a clever system here to extract money from you To see the sights you have to buy a boleto turistico , a multi venue ticket covering many things to see. Even if you don't want it, you have to buy it because you cannot pay separately at individual sites. But it conveniently does not cover some of the main sights! At 70 soles each (about £13) its not excessive compared to London prices but even so ....

At the allotted hour we were picked up for the city tour - that is when the fun really started! The first stop was the Temple of the Sun, Coricancha, an old Inca Temple site, well and truly looted by the Spanish. It used to be covered in gold from top to bottom, now only some of the stone walls remain so a lot is left to the imagination. It seems like every tour company in Cuzco follows the same tour route and that all tours start at the same time. Our English only tour from Milla Turismo (described by Lonely Planet as providing first class services) ended up being a pooled tour of forty people. Within the group people were translating from English into French and German. Combined with the sheer volume of people in one place at a time it made it difficult to follow what was being said. I left with the impression that I hand not really seen what there was to see.

That said, I did learn a lot about Inca building techniques, techniques that are earth quake proof. Walls are wider at the base tat the top. Within them they have trapezoidal spaces (the Incas did not know arches), partly to provide spaces to display statues and offerings but also as strengthening for the walls. The stones were individually carved, incorporating joints again to provide strength, and were shaped and polished so perfectly that no mortar was used in construction (for high status buildings). In essence, their buildings are huge three dimensional jigsaw puzzles.

After the Temple of the Sun we were herded (literally) to the next stop on the trail, the Cathedral. This is in fact three separate churches which are linked together. Again we were shepherded through and at one point even our guide seemed cross at how many groups there were. More people had joined our already large group at this point!


Mighty Inca walls at Sacsayhuaman

The churches were highly ornate with heavily carved cedar wood altars that had been covered in gold plate. Chapels lined the sides and the walls were also decorated with huge paintings from the Cuzco school (of art). It was all very baroque but the local painters had carried Inca iconography into an otherwise very European style. This was also true of the choir what had carvings of barely clad ladies symbolising Pachamama (Mother Earth) - not what you would see in a European church.

The cattle train then set out to see the archeological sites on the outskirts of town. The first, Sacsayhuamán, was a really interesting place. In Quecha the name means Satisfied Falcon. The site was a fort, mostly demolished by the Spanish (they demolished all temples, forts etc of the Incas as they went) but also by the local Cuzquenos who had free right to use the stones to build there houses.

What is left is still impressive. You can see the shape of the fort and the foundations of the central tower (they think used as a water tower). A large open square bridges the space to another site which is believed to have been some sort of observatory. As soon as we arrived here we were told "time is tight, it gets dark in forty five minutes and we still have three more stops to make". By this time we were both getting wound up. This was somewhere to have spent quite some time but we were rushed through. They must know how long is needed to complete the tour so we could not understand why, in winter, they did not either drop bits out or start earlier. Progress was not helped by the inevitable few who always had to be chased to get back onto the buses (there were two because the group was so big).

We then did a whistle stop tour of Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. At each we were herded off the bus, talked at for five minutes and then herded back onto the bus. There was no time to look around or explore or really see these places. This was most disappointing at Qenko as from the description in Lonely Planet it sounds like an interesting place to look around. To really round off our increasing frustration this tour then ended up in the inevitable tourist shop selling handicrafts, woven this, alpaca that....

For a first class tour company we were not impressed with Milla Turismo and did not really feel that we had got what we expected from the tour. When we got back into town we went to complain. It was only then that they told us it was a pooled tour and they had no control over the group size. Even they seemed surprised when we told them that the group was more than forty. We checked what the state of play was for the next two tours - Sacred Valley will probably be the same but we were assured that the group for Machu Picchu would be no bigger than 20.

Feeling very wound up we decided to go for a drink and against our better judgment/traveling principles (call it what you will) we headed for one of the two Irish bars in town - I know it was a cop out but we both felt like having a strop in "home" turf. Even though it was early (about 7pm) the place was packed, with everyone sat in rows watching the TV - footie was my initial groan but it turned out to be the last twenty minutes of the British Lions being trounced by the All Blacks. As with the footie in Uruguay, as soon as the match was over the bar emptied leaving just a few people munching on their cottage pie. Much as we were tempted we did not think it would really be the taste from home we were after so we went for Japanese instead!

Heading back to the hotel I started to lose my temper with the endless stream of people trying to polish Stef's shoes, sell us postcards/paintings and/or trying to get us into their restaurant to eat. All in all a frustrating day in a totally tourist focused place.


What a night! I was awake for most of it from about 2am with pretty horrific sickness and diarrhea and in the morning had a pounding headache and felt lousy. I knew I would not make it on the Sacred Valley tour and was quietly pleased when Stef also stayed behind even though I had told him to go.

He must have been thoroughly bored. Its Sunday so everything in town in shut. There were sounds of some sort of procession in town and Stef went to see. Turns out its the weekly parade of all the local professions and trades (this country likes its marching processions). I have only seen it through pictures because I was still curled up in bed when he got back late morning.

I finally got up at around 12, showered and knew something was wrong. I again felt lousy - pounding head, nauseous, short of breath. Stef called a doctor and yes, the altitude sickness has struck me down again. My oxygen levels are OK but only because my heart is working overtime to achieve this. I do not have a temperature but have a gassy tummy and am reliably informed that the diarrhea will continue!. I was left 300 soles poorer and with tablets for altitude sickness, nausea, strong pain killers for my headache, a Perúvian version of Pepto-Bismol for my stomach, bottles of electrolight drink and three puncture wounds - 2 unsuccessful attempts to inject my veins with a painkiller to ease my headache, one successful attempt on my hip. It does not look like they have very fine needles over here - I look like I have got a vampire bite on my arm!

The rest of the day I dozed feeling pretty lousy and contemplating how I could still get Stef to go to Machu Picchu tomorrow even if I cannot make it. As its lower altitude than Cuzco the doctor said I should be fine and that it would be good for me.

I really do not remember much else about today. I was amazed at how much I slept - I suppose it is one of the body's natural healing remedies.

Early morning train to Machu Picchu

An early start - the alarm was set for 4:30am as we have to get to 6:00am train (another Milla Turismo classic - they called yesterday so say we were on this one and not the 7:00am train we had expected). I feel better but not 100% and am determined to make the trip. I'm still in a bit of a daze though and I simply followed Stef to where we had to go.

To get to Machu Picchu we have to get the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientas and from there get a bus to the site. We have splashed out on the train and are traveling in the Vistadom class (not the backpacker class) - better seats and bigger windows to enjoy the view (a bit lost on me today!). It is a well organised service with smartly dressed staff welcoming you on board at your coach.

The uphill climb out of Cuzco makes the train wind round the mountain then switchback (reversing) for a bit before starting to climb again. The tracks run in the middle of the road, close to houses and kids play areas with no barriers to stop people wandering on and off the tracks. People here much get hacked off with the noise of trains chuntering past their bedrooms at such an ungodly hour.

Cuzco itself stretches back a long way (it is a city of about half a million people). The houses are all cluttered together, almost built on tope of each other, with very little space and privacy between them. A couple of times we passed cracks in the landscape, clear evidence of earthquakes in the not too distant past.

For most of the journey we were coasting downhill - the high peaks around Machu Picchu are lower than the level of Cuzco - and the scenery changed to become more tropical. I dozed most of the way, waking to find we were almost at Aguas Calientes. The railway track here, all the way to the bus, was lined with shops selling the usual tourist stuff. Our guide, Darwin, had introduced himself on the train and gave us printed instructions on where to meet him at the top "as we were part of a pooled tour" - not a good sign.

The bus wound its way uphill on a dirt track road which was pretty bumpy and not great for my still delicate tummy! At the top, Darwin blew his whistle to summon the tour group and our suspicions were confirmed as he rattled off a huge list - I stopped counting when it got to more than fifty. The group was split into Spanish and English speaking and the English group was then split again. I'm not sure if they had planned to do this all along or whether it was a reaction to Stef querying the group size as Milla Tourismo had assured us it would be no more than twenty. Darwin simply shrugged his shoulders and said that groups were always thirty five to forty people.

Although the group was big he was an experienced guide and managed and controlled it well. He seems to have a real passion for this place and tried to sell us copies of his book at the end of the tour. I heard people from other groups commenting on how good his explanations were. Everywhere you look there are tourist groups but the guides take them initially to different parts of the site, which is large enough not to feel swamped by them.

Machu Picchu is a truly impressive place. Abandoned by the Incas before the Spanish reached this area it survived intact and was not demolished by the Conquistadors. It lay forgotten until the early 1900's when a local Quecha stumbled across it (evidenced by him carving his name and the date in one of the temples). He then brought wealthy people from Cuzco here who looted the gold, silver and artifacts. It was discovered in an archeological sense in 1911 by an American, Hiram Bingham, who then led several expeditions to explore, excavate and protect the site.

The site was multifunctional. The agricultural terraces were used as sites to test different crops to see which would grow best here, so scientists were present. There are temples confirming the sites religious significance but it was also an observatory. Many of the temples and key ornaments are placed with exact accuracy pointing east to the sun rise, or in alignment with the summer/winter solstice, or to other major astronomical features used to determine the changing seasons for agricultural purposes. Rocks have been carved to exactly mirror the outline of the surrounding mountains. The whole place has a mathematical precision to it that is uniquely beautiful.

The buildings also reflect different uses and the different status of their users. Some are high quality with exact fitting stonework and polished surfaces. Others are more roughly hewn. Yet more were still in the process of being built when the site was evacuated. It must have been painstaking work and, if the Inca people were the same size as modern Perúvians, they made very big steps for people with such little legs!

Machu Picchu, the quintessential shot

I cannot do justice to the place here - it is something you either need to see for yourself or get  good book from the library and look it up. Our guide made a big plea for us to email UNESCO to get their help to protect the site. Even though there is a fairly meaty entrance fee to get in Darwin confirmed that this money "simply goes to the bureaucrats in Lima, it is not used to protect Machu Picchu".

With the guide we had we definitely got value for money. Would I have walked away disappointed if I had just relied on the explanations in Lonely Planet - probably. If you want you can stay nearby overnight which gives you the time to explore the ruins, potentially seeing them at sunrise and sunset, and enables you to walk along part of the Inca Trail. We had toyed with this but uninformed decided against it - it would have been worthwhile, if nothing else to have been able to see the site at a cooler time of day. Our tour was between 11am and 1pm, there is no shade here and the heat was just bouncing off the rocks - a bit too hot for me.

We got a much needed drink before heading back down to Aguas Calientes on the bus. NOt ones to miss a trick the bus stop was a little way into town and forces you to walk through a sizeable feria artisanale to get back to the train. Yet more opportunities for alpaca et al.

The train journey back was smooth enough. About twenty minutes after we left the train stopped to let off what I had though were some of the porters from the Inca Trail. With hindsight this was a bit of a daft conclusion of mine as they probably did not need machetes and hard hats to cope with the Inca Trail trekkers! The area is probe to forest fires at this time of year and one was raging on the hills. They were off to cut fire breaks to try and control the flames.

With a captive audience PerúRail did not miss out on its tourist sales opportunities. This morning they had tried to see books on Perú and Machu Picchu. This evening, after a warm up of a local dance in costume up and down the carriage, we were then "treated" to a fashion parade of .... yes, more alpaca - jumpers, scarves, ponchos, capes, all set to Madonna and Kylie!

Back in Cuzco, Perúvian bureaucracy set off a trail for copies of the receipts we had been given when we had bought out tours. We had white copies of our three receipts but one of them should have been yellow. The firm's Accounts department would not accept the wrong copy of the receipt - good to see accountants rule here too!

We were then left in peace and quiet. I wasn't feeling great. I was light-headed and my limbs felt really heavy, partly due to wandering around Machu Picchu but also due to the fact that I have not had a proper meal for a while that I have kept down. Stef is also off colour. He did not take a hat with him today and has a very brown and rather hot head.

On our first night in Cuzco we did not worry about eating out knowing we had three more nights to try the local specialities - cuy (guinea pig) being one of them. Tonight is our last night here and neither of us feels like going out or eating. We simply crashed.

My impressions of Cuzco - a beautiful town/city steeped in history but overpriced for what you get (even factoring in that its high season). There are a lot of tourists here but its not totally over run by them. They just do not seem to have the tactics for managing the tourist trade effectively and staggering activity throughout the day. As such everything feels bottlenecked.

We are leaving not having seen all the things we wanted to. I doubt though that it has a pull strong enough to make me want to come back.

Another early start. We again have to be at the airport at least ninety minutes before our flight so our taxi is booked for 5:30am. Stef is feeling better but I am still not great. I am spacey and have frequent trips to the loo - not great when you are flying.

At the airport there was no queue for check in - we flew with StarPerú, most are with LanPerú - so there was no real need for us to be there as early as we were. We paid our departure tax and sat down to wait out the time to our flight. Stef was rejuvenated by coffee and empanadas. I was glad we were near the Ladies! StarPerú was a good choice with loads of leg room (why can't all airlines do this?) and comfy seats. Before long we were back in Lima.

We have splashed out here on an expensive hotel (Hotel Maury) and they came to meet us at the airport (for a fee!). Both being under the weather we wanted a little extra comfort and luxury, something like the Las Margaritas (business) hotel we had stayed at in Asunción in Paraguay. Listed in Lonely Planet as "recently renovated, doing well for it, borders on the top end, thumbs up from readers" we thought we had hit home. Walking through the lobby I was not so sure. The entrance is very grand and ornate but it has a tinge of a bygone era about it, similar to the Gran Hotel de Salto in Uruguay. Our room is large and comfortable but again has a dated feel. Rationalising it as I wrote this diary the only things its really missing are free high speed internet connection and staff who speak English - not really high priorities in the overall scale of things.

We both simply flaked out for a while. I think the early starts and the strain of high altitude have taken their toll. Stef's ears still have not popped from the flight so he went off in search of a pharmacy to get them sorted. I kept running to the loo and by the time he was back we were at the stage where we knew we needed to get a doctor again. Lonely Planet provided a recommendation, Jorge Bazan, who would come to the hotel later in the afternoon.

By this stage Stef was crawling the walls like a caged animal so I made a shopping list of bits to do so I could send him out into town. As he was about to leave his tummy rumbled and he dashed to the loo - he has succumbed to what ever it is that I have got. Captive in our room for the day we spent the afternoon reading and watching TV (Discovery Channel Victorian era version of Jaws). Stef was feeling hot and cold and got into bed.

By the time the doctor arrived, Stef felt more in need of him than me. Jorge was very friendly and is used to dealing with travelers complaints. We ran through where we had been and how we have felt over the last few days and he confirmed that some of my symptoms are side effects of PeptoBismol. He seems sure that we have just picked up a bacterial infection somewhere along the way. Stef also has a high temperature. More electrolight to  drink, a short course of antibiotics and another 200soles later he left. The pharmacy dropped off our prescription (they all do a home delivery service in Perú) having initially been cautious as this area of Lima is apparently dangerous at night (a bit concerning because it was not even 7pm when they came)!

By this time Stef was well and truly burning up so I tucked him up in bed and left him to doze. Neither of us feels like eating again but I am conscious that for me this means I have only had a few dry biscuits since breakfast on Saturday. Much as I want/need to lose weight this is not the best way to do it!!

Lima's Plaza de Armas

This is a noisy city. I woke to the sound of traffic (we're on the fourth floor and behind double glazing) - honking horns seems to be a national past-time here. I did not have the best night's sleep - this time it was Stef waking me as he ran to the bathroom rather than the other way around. He is still hot but not as hot as he was in the middle of the night when I was contemplating a late night medical call out!

For the first time in days I actually felt like something to eat. I was unsteady on my pins and a bit light headed as we made it down to breakfast. The "old era" feeling of the hotel continued here. What yesterday had given the impression of a smart dining room today has a sad, not lived in feeling. For the price we are paying, breakfast was a poor show compared to other hotels. We both ate tentatively, waiting to see what the outcome would be from our stomachs, if any.

Today is meant to be our sightseeing in Lima day before moving on tomorrow. We are both a bit cagey about what we feel like doing and agree to take the morning easy and see how the afternoon pans out. We finally made it out at about 1pm and went down to the main Plaza de Armas - not a patch on Arequipa or Cuzco. The buildings on the way to the Plaza looked as if they had been burned out, but the ground floor was refurbished with a range of different eateries packed with suited lunchtime munchers.

At the Plaza all the buildings were painted orange, except for the Cathedral and the Governors Palace which are stone. We sat for a while in the square, partly to check what there was to do and partly because I was feeling funny again. At the Governor's Palace, we took photos of the guards - not the same as Beefeaters but the same principle. We then headed towards the main shopping street, Lima's equivalent of Oxford Street.

By this time I was again not well. I felt very wobbly on my feet and the floor was starting to move beneath me. About fifteen minutes after we had left the hotel we were back. I phone the doctor who confirmed that I was probably just weak, not having eaten for 4 days. If I am still funny tomorrow I have to call back as it could be an allergy to the antibiotics.

Stef, still with gurgling tummy, went in search of food and we had a picnic in our room. It did the trick and we went in search of a travel agency. We have decided to leave Lima tomorrow as planned to head to the North of Perú. We have both reached the stage of needing to move on, not just from Lima but from Perú too. However, at the agency they confirmed that if we want to go to the jungle (still something we are considering) we would have to go via Lima. Not what we wanted to hear! We went back again to the hotel, the third time today we have been out and back quickly. They must by now think we are nuts as we did not leave the hotel at all yesterday!

We had a quick look around at jungle trips and decided it would be similar to our stay at Yacutinga Lodge in Argentina but with the Perúvian slant of trips to villages where we can buy local handicrafts etc. As neither of us are avid wildlife watchers we agreed that it would not be sufficiently different to Yacutinga to justify the cost and we would rather spend the money going to the Galapagos Islands. We reverted back to plan A and went and bought our flight tickets to Trujillo - neither of us can face the thought of an eight hour overnight bus journey just yet.

Presidential guards strutting their stuff

Back in the Plaza there are more police around than earlier in the day. A couple of roads to the Plaza have been cordoned off (possibly explaining the excess of car horns this morning?), there are riot police and a water canon (which they are more than happy for us to photograph) all on standby as if they are waiting for trouble. At the Governors Palace a little parade of six soldiers were doing their stuff and striking the national flag. They are definitely candidates for Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. An old local chap explained that the Chilean ambassador and diplomats were visiting El Presidente today, hence the extra security.

We ambled on down to the Post Office and through the small museums of stamps over the years and the development of the police - both quite interesting. They were in three separate rooms and as we came out of each room we had to sign a separate visitors book. The local guards on hand were keen to ensure we did and supplied us with pens to do so.

Having been warned in Lonely Planet and by the doctor last night that it is not safe to stray away from the Plaza de Armas at night I was cautious about going too far - I am back in not liking big cities mode. We toured the streets around the Plaza, there is not really a lot here. This whole part of Lima has a run down feel and this is meant to be the historical centre, attraction for tourists.

At a corner cafe we stopped for a drink not wanting to go back to our hotel (again) but it being too early to go for dinner. We narrowed down our options for hotels in Trujillo and tried to book but our preferred choice was not answering the phone - not a good sign.

We went for an early dinner to Pardo's Chicken, only realising later than the person in the chicken costume we had passed on the way there was promoting the place. It was cheap and cheerful with a simple menu - mainly chicken and chips. Within thirty minutes we had walked in, ordered, eaten, paid and left - just what we wanted. By 9pm we were back in our room and tucked up in bed watching the end of Dr Strangelove on the Retro channel - I wonder what Perúvians make of it!

I am still not feeling great and stayed in bed while Stef went down to breakfast. Probably much to his irritation I was flaked out all morning as we did not make it out for a final look around Lima before we left. I am not really that bothered. I have not warmed to the city and have no burning desire to stay or to come back.

At lunchtime we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Trujillo in the north. The flight is a bit of a luxury but I do not think I would cope with the eight hour bus ride just yet. On the departure side there is the usual queue and lengthy process to check in. Our request for extra leg room was acknowledged but not carried out in practice. It is a LanPerú flight and unlike StarPerú they like to cram people in.

Arrival in Trujillo

With time to kill we had some lunch and I am ashamed to say we went to McDonalds. They are used to an international clientele here and they have the menu in English as well as Spanish (not that you really need the translation). Freshly cooked it was actually very tasty.

On board, we changed seats for more leg room but also to get away from the man next to me - ultimate flight nightmare he had a very unwashed odour about him. Stef is hooked again on the Su Doku puzzle book that Caz and Andy gave him before we left. He has worked out a strategy for completing them which is fine for the mild and difficult puzzles but is not working on the fiendish ones. We had a half baked attempt at solving the latest ones but spent more time watching Just for Laughs (Canadian version of Candid Camera).

The airport at Trujillo is just by the sea. The cloud cover here is the same as Lima - low flying for most of the year. We suddenly broke through the clouds, were above the sea and then touched down. It would get very wet if they ran out of runway on take off! As the airport is tiny we quickly got our bags and found the driver who had come to meet us. We had the inevitable tours spiel from him and even at the hotel they were telling us how he is cheaper than the tour companies in town. If he spoke English we might have bee persuaded but my Spanish is not good enough for tours in Spanish.

Our room is basic but OK. We have a lot of space and a comfy bed. I crashed out again while Stef went off to explore a bit. check information on tours and see what our options are for leaving. He came back armed with information, we booked a tour by phone, caught a taxi to the bus station to get our tickets (an eight and a half hour night bus - doubt it will be comfy) and headed to the Plaza de Armas.

The main square was quite pretty with the usual combination of statue, flower beds, cathedral etc. Here though there were no cafes or restaurants on the square, it was all commercial. There is a slower, more relaxed pace and very few tourists in sight.

Indiana Jones's uncool cousin, studying the adobe temples at Chan Chan

We were picked up at 9am by Jose who already had a Spanish family (Mum, Dad and a thirty-ish daughter) from Barcelona in the back of the van. A refreshing change from the gringo trail in the south - its just the five of us on the tour.

Our first stop is at the Huacas de Sol y de La Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon). The main road to the temples is being worked on so we (but it seemed no one else!) went the old way. It was a rough dirt track that took us past the local Circus (which had seen better days from the state of the Big Top) and across the Rio Moche. There was no bridge, we drove through it, about twenty metres of pebble bottomed river bed. Its dry season so at only six inches deep it was an easy ride.

From the road, the temples just look like mounds of adobe bricks but they hold a hidden treasure. The site is still an active archeological dig, final year archeology students at Trujillo university provide the man power. The Temples are separated by a huge flat area which is where the city was. For now, work is focusing on the smaller Temple of the Moon and the city. It is sponsored by a local beer company - I bet the researchers welcome a cold one after a day in the dust and heat here!

The Temple of the Moon is fascinating. It is a Moche site, dated to between 200BC and 850AD. As the population of the city grew they rebuilt and enlarged their temple as well. On the site there are five different temples. The old ones were not destroyed, they were filled with bricks and the next one was built as a layer over the top. The archeologists now have a real dilemma. To excavate the oldest temples they will have to partially destroy the newer ones. Because successive temples were built over the older ones they have incredibly well preserved wall decorations and murals. You can also see the makers symbols in the adobe bricks in the walls. They think that when a new temple was built the different groups within the city each had to supply a quota of bricks, a sort of tax. The marks were how they kept track of who had supplied what quantity of bricks.

From the artifacts found in the temples they can tell that it was only used for ceremonial purposes and not for commerce or accommodation. Different plazas enabled the public to watch certain parts of the ritual ceremonies. Some parts were held in privacy. Human sacrifices were made. As part of these rituals they believe that two warriors fought each other, not to the death but until first blood was drawn. The "loser" was then sacrificed to the gods either by having his throat cut or by a bash on the back of the head.

The decorations on the outside of the temple pay homage to their gods. In its prime, this site must have been truly stunning to see and it makes me wonder how much more fantastic the larger Temple of the Sun must have been. Work continues at this site and I suspect it will do for many years as long as the funding continues. Jose our guide confirmed that each year new parts of the Temple are opened up for visitors to see.

Totora reed canoes at Huanchaco

Most of the tourists here seem to be Spanish speaking. There are also about five groups of school children on a visit. They must only be about five or six years old and are very well behaved. At the little souvenir centre we saw another local oddity, a breed of Perúvian dog that has no hair (one had a bleached blond mohican). The Spanish family fulfilled their tourist obligations (or at least the female contingent did to much shoulder shrugging from Papa) and went shopping for ceramics, necklaces etc. We have still resisted the temptation, partly because of the challenge of getting them home in one piece and partly because we know we would simply stuff them in a cupboard when we get back.

From here we went to La Huaca Arco Iris (The Rainbow Temple). This is a Chimu site and is much much simpler. Most of the site was reconstructed in the 1960's but it still has original walls with decoration. It is a single temple in the shape of a truncated pyramid. Around the edges are huge storage bins into which were lowered offerings to the gods - food, clothing, ceramics, other textiles etc. Allegedly these bins were only open at the top but I was left with a feeling that they must have been emptied from time to time.

Our next stop was the small museum of Chan Chan. This had exhibits of pottery, textiles etc and had maps showing the overall size and layout of the Chan Chan site. Its main site is nine different temple palaces, each built by a successive king of Chan Chan. There was also a chronology of South American civilisations comparing them to civilisations in Europe and Asia. We do not really have a concept in Europe that anything happened in America pre Colombus but there is a huge wealth of history, tradition, religion and civilisation here that captures the interest.

Heading into the Chan Chan site you can only (safely) see one of the palaces, Tschudi (named after a Swiss), that has been partially excavated and opened to the public. This is a huge site which would have again been primarily used for religious purposes. The entrance opens into a main ceremonial plaza with a raised platform at one end where the king would have sat. They were revered as gods and after death they were mummified, in a seated position, and wheeled out for successive ceremonies  as they were deemed to still be alive in the afterlife. At each ceremony, young women were offered as sacrifices and three hundred female skeletons were found next to the burial chamber in this palace.

Behind the main plaza is a range of audience rooms. Here people brought their offerings which again were stored in big bins, similar to those at the Rainbow Temple but these were accessible at ground level. This was a complex are of interlocking rooms, highly decorated with symbolism for fishing nets and the moon. The wealth of these place must have been staggering.

Behind the audience rooms is a further, smaller plaza for more closed ceremonies. Beyond that is a huge well, more like an enormous pool. This too was ceremonial but is now home to reeds, water lilies and birds. Past this is a further smaller plaza with the mausoleum for the king. Around the main tomb are many more smaller ones with servants, sacrificial offerings and goods that the king (now a god) will need in the next life.

Looking forward to the night bus

All of these sites are suffering from erosion from the elements. Made of adobe bricks they are simply worn away, with the effects of El Nino being particularly devastating. Attempts are being made to preserve the original features by shielding them with metal roofs and/or putting protective layers on the surfaces of walls. However, centuries of damage have taken their toll. From the road you would have no idea that these sites are here holding such a wealth of information. As at Nazca, the PanAm has ploughed through the edge of the Chan Chan site.

After Chan Chan we were taken to Huanchaco, a local seaside resort, for lunch. Stef tried the Ceviche - a Perúvian speciality of raw fish marinated in lemon juice. He went for a mixed plate which had scallops, crab, fish and unidentifiable shellfish (which to me looked decidedly dodgy). Here we also saw the reed boats that the locals use to go fishing. They are heavy to handle are are replaced about every three months as the reeds start to rot.

Back in town we were dropped off at the Plaza de Armas. We've got a few hours to kill until we leave tonight on the night bus to Mancora, a small fishing village on the north coast. We will be staying at the Mancora Beach resort for a few days R&R before heading up into Ecuador.

As expected, our previous bad experience with a night bus looks set to be repeated. Stef's knees were digging into the seat in front of him before the guy sat in it reclined his chair. It was stuffy and someone had taken their shoes off wafting a smelly sock odour throughout the bus. It was full so we couldn't even spread out! We both knew that a long eight and a half hours was ahead of us. Not helped when a Steven Seagal film was put on the TV - they seem to have a thing about him and violent films in buses in South America.

Happy Birthday John!, from Máncora

Happy Birthday John!

We arrived here at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, both very glad that we had booked a taxi to take us to our hotel. The only other transport in sight is bicycle rickshaws and we are 4km away along the coast road (the old PanAm, unpaved and very bumpy).

There was general confusion getting our bags, not just for us but for everyone getting off here. The bus man opened one compartment - no bags for anyone despite him pulling a few out. Other side of the bus, same story but here he also opened the next compartment down. A bag here moved on its own, I think it had live chickens in inside.

He finally went back to the other side of the bus and opened up more compartments and there were our bags. With all other buses we had actually seen them load our bags. On this one you did not and I was getting quite concerned that they had gone astray. With our bags in the back of the taxi we set off for our hotel, passing a rickshaw with two people, two backpacks and a surfboard balanced across the top. Its pitch black but we can see stars which hopefully means that we will get clear night skies.

At the hotel the night porter came out to greet us with a torch. He checked us in and showed us to our room. Stef, who is displaying increasing levels of German tendencies (for being first in the queue, getting the best tables etc), starts to query the room asking if there is one with direct access to the beach. The porter does not understand what he is asking, it is 5am and I walk away rather than losing my rag - I just want to get a few hours sleep in a bed.

Our room is everything Lonely Planet promised, large, clean, very good bed, balcony etc. We dumped our bags and crashed out to the sound of the Pacific. Sleep is a remarkable healer and after just three hours kip we both felt refreshed. We headed down for breakfast and were surprised to see the dining room packed. Its the weekend and its full of Perúvians here for a weekend break. One possible downside is that most of them seem to be teenagers so we could be in for a noisy night.

Stef played the German again and grabbed some sun loungers by the pool, beaten only by three Americans. We spent the morning catching up on diaries and wishing that the hotel PA system would break down so that the music would stop (this is a sign I am getting old!). The sky is hazy blue and there is a lovely warm wind blowing. This whole stretch of coastline is known for surfing but we have yet to see any evidence of good waves. Must be the wrong season!

Morning rolled into afternoon and still we sat and enjoyed the sun. When it was getting just a bit too hot we went up to our room and sat on our balcony in the shade having lunch. Stef well and truly trounced me at cribbage and then, exhausted from the effort of doing not a lot he had a little siesta in the hammock.

Late in the afternoon we headed down to the beach for a paddle. The water is quite warm and the sand is soft under your feet. As each wave goes out what looks like bubbles appear in the sand - its actually hundreds of little baby crabs. Further up towards the dry sand larger crabs come out when there are no waves or people walking about. They are not particularly big but I bet it would hurt if the got your toe with their pincers! I find them fascinating to watch. Each has its own little hole and they appear to be guarding and protecting it. There was one crab larger than the rest and it seemed to be quite vicious, either that or its breeding season and it was a little frisky. For ungainly animals that move sideways they move pretty quickly.

Also on the beach are locals and their horses (horse rides are available, presumably just up and down the beach). The horses look a bit forlorn and they are also quite skinny and bony. Unlike the hat/picture/artisanales sellers who were quite active in plying their wares this morning, these guys seem to have no desire to drum up business.

We sat and watched the sun go down - our first Pacific sunset. Stef has some amazing photo's showing the different colour spectrum of the sun. In one you can almost see that it is a burning ball of rocks and gas.

Earlier we had phoned John to wish him a Happy Birthday. We also made him a card in the sand and have taken pictures to email through to him. I hope he lasted the course - I spoke to him at 6pm UK time, he'd been drinking all day (its summer and the sun is shining back home!) and was just off to a party at their friend's Chris and Jeff.

All ills forgotten

With the sun gone and the stars starting to appear we headed back for a shower. Going past the pool I tested the water - just above body heat. The temptation was too great and we stopped for a twilight swim.

It's been a really relaxing day. I think I am finally over the various bugs we have had (I am actually starting to feel hungry rather than eating because I know I need to) and am looking forward to Ecuador. We are staying here for another day, partly because it is so relaxing but also because we have not yet looked into where we want to go in Ecuador and/or how to get there.

The noise from the ocean is louder than I had expected. The bay seems to slope quite slowly but I reckon that a short distance out it must drop quite steeply. Its a real crashing, rolling noise. Every now and again there is total peace and quite - a lull in the waves crashing - quite unique.

Tonight there is a clear sky (so I am preparing myself for the inevitable star gazing session with Stef). There is a crescent moon but, unlike in our night skies back home, this is lying flat rather than vertical, it is as if the night sky is smiling at us. It looks so close I feel I could reach out and pluck it out of the sky. Incredible that people have walked on its surface!

Lying in the hammock watching the stars I had a really odd sensation. I was swaying slightly but it seemed as if I was still and that the night sky was swinging slowly backwards and forwards. It must be the lingering effects of ship roll. When we went down to eat the restaurant was packed full of teenagers again (the hotel have run a special promotion for a local college) so we had to eat in the boat bar. The boat itself looks like an old fishing trawler and has a few tables dotted around. To get to it though you have to walk across a small (three metres!) wooden slatted rope bridge. I had not noticed this and was a bit caught out when the floor started to move beneath me!