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When I got back to Cuzco I was burdened with a terrible hacking cough that made it difficult for me to finish a sentence, that stuck with me for quite a while. Like all things here, blame it on the altitude! (Actually it did get better when I descended to Lima …) The next day in Cuzco L and M were off to their next destination – I was sad to see them go as they had been perfect company. I spent a couple of days trying to take it easy and recover; reading, sleeping in, sitting in cafes having soups and honey tea. It didn’t help the cough much though, so when I was feeling better I decided to just ignore the cough and get back to having a good time!

I walked the streets, ignoring the innumerable touts (“amigo!”, “smoking grass?”, “menu, menu”), checking out Inca walls built into the sides of streets, seeing the churches. All I saw reinforced my amazement and respect for the Incas and my disgust and revulsion for the Catholics. It always makes me feel almost ill to see people genuflecting before ugly dolls covered with weeping sores and dripping blood. Puppet parodies of suffering, grossly exaggerated toys dripping as much hypocrisy as fake blood. At the same time as they were setting up these symbols of the their holy church the Spaniards were raping and destroying the Inca culture.

I spent a day back at Pisac, this time getting up to the high ridge overlooking the village and spending several hours in sunny weather exploring Inca ruins, walking well-preserved Inca trails, staircases and through tunnels, and sitting gazing out over the valley and down to the village and river below. Plenty of opportunities to get close to precipitous drops, which I love doing! I walked the steep trail down to the village and sat at a table on the plaza reading a book and having a beer and sandwich.

Back in town I bumped into one of the English girls I’d met in Copacabana, L, and we went for a drink and fell to talking with two other Brits. Some other people arrived and we all moved to Los Perros, a fantastic and relaxing bar with orange walls covered with art, comfy lounges, good music and excellent food and wine. Afterwards it was Mama Africa’s again for dancing.

Los Perros became my home away from home, and I spent many hours there just relaxing or talking with travellers or the wonderful staff. I got to know all the staff and the band that played there on Sunday evenings and sat in on a couple of gigs, playing bongos, percussion and cojon (?) – a wooden box you sit on and drum. My last evening in Cuzco was a huge gig with the band at Los Perros, everyone dancing and singing and whooping and getting down and the band playing up the proverbial storm; I bashed my hands raw on the bongos and the band played like incredibly talented maniacs (which is of course what they were.) What a night.

So the next week was spent having serious fun in Cuzco, getting into a comfortable routine of (some) local sightseeing, long walks, films in the afternoon at Mama Africa’s, beers at the Crossed Keys and long nights lounging about at Los Perros. One day I walked in the countryside outside the city with an Irish guy I’d met in a bar, a French girl and a Dutch guy; we strolled through a Eucalyptus plantation and were charged into by a very friendly shaggy white llama, scrambled over Inca ruins, and ran back into the city and to Los Perros through a torrential downpour. I met lots of other travellers who all had interesting stories to tell of their journeys. It was a lifestyle I could have sustained for a long time, given the money and no yen to keep moving …

Eventually I did get moving again though, and after the last big night at Los Perros and many farewells, I headed to Lima, travelling with L and three guys she had been travelling with off and on.

After flying from Cuzco to Lima and taking a taxi through that vast chaotic smelly city, we got a bus straight down to Huacachina and spent most of the next day relaxing to the point of exhaustion around and in a pool in a hotel, the weather hot, sunny and humid. I dropped my camera in the pool (good one) but I was in luck and after a dry out in the sun it started working again! (That’s a Canon Elph – I must write them a kind letter…)

Huacachina was a Lawrence of Arabia film set, a few streets around a lagoon, loomed over by huge sand dunes. Then we went to a Peruvian vineyard outside of Ica, the town nearby, for a tour of the place and a hilariously bad wine tasting (one tiny glass for us to share) – I’m here to tell you that Peruvian wine, unlike Chilean, will never impact the world market! Plah!

Back in Huacachina, we hired sandboards and climbed a ridiculously exhausting 20 minutes to the top of the dune behind the hotel, to fly screaming down the slope, risking our lives and filling every convenient crevice, and some others, with sand – far better than San Pedro in Chile, much higher and finer sand. Back in Ica for a Chinese dinner. Not a bad day … Around this time I wrote this in my diary, and you can hear the contentment:

“Sometimes I stop and just breath deep and feel the wind on my skin and forget about everything else, past and future, and it’s the best feeling in the world. Like the first night in Huacachina when the guys and I climbed one of the dunes, the sun going down, the oasis a droplet of darkness speckled with electric lights below, huge dunes marching away to the horizon. Not that I’ll pretend this attitude is easy to sustain in the ‘real world’, but I’m enjoying living this way for a while …”

The next day a trip into the desert to search for shark’s teeth and petrified whale bones – a crazy day spent mostly in the back of a pickup truck in blazing heat and fine dust. I have a handful of 12 million year old shark’s teeth as a souvenir. The spinal cords of ancient whales littered the desert. Amazing. Our guide was a driven character with a passion for ancient shark’s teeth and enough on the edge personality to be the subject of an entertaining documentary. He celebrated our day by joining us for drinks around the pool in the evening and going on to drink all night – after a brief incomprehensible conversation the next morning I found him unconscious in a flowerbed.

The next day I moved on by myself, taking a bus to Nazca, where I flew over the famous Nazca lines, huge symbols in the desert covering some 500 square kilometres of barren plain, another thing I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. In a six seater plane the pilot made sudden wing dips over the geoglyphs (“on the left – monkey! Monkey, monkey on the left!!”) so we could see them clearly from both sides of the plane. In the bottom photo shown here you can see the bottom of the wingtip in the top of the photo. The top image is the ‘bird’, the bottom the ‘astronaut’.

Back at the hotel I was staying at I managed to get some form of food poisoning and while walking back to my room passed out in a flowerbed, bashing my head against a stucco wall as I fell. A gardener helped me to my room where I lay on the bed in shock, feeling blood trickle down my forehead. The staff were helpful however and I recovered in a day, and the day after that caught a bus back north to Lima.

I was still destined to have one more day of sickness in Lima, but I got a decent room in a hotel – very cheap but it seemed incredibly expensive compared to the rooms of the past month – and took it easy. Met three girls from New York who I spent a day with, and did manage to have one good night on the town, and do a bit of sightseeing, including visiting the old headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. In a jaw-dropping piece of propaganda the guide actually managed to be an apologist for the Spanish Inquisition, calling torture the “torment process” and hey, everyone else was using torture at that time in history anyway …

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