7th April 2014
The third journey with Peru Hop was the longest, and for us it was doubly long because, with a deadline to stick to, we had to skip the third stop in Arequipa and head straight to Cusco. We started from Huacachina at about half three, and didn’t reach Cusco until about six o clock the following evening; a painfully long journey by any standards.
We actually did the first part of the journey, a tour of a nearby Pisco vineyard, two days before so as to cut the route a little shorter. Nillo was still our guide at this stage, and drove us to the outskirts of Ica for the tour. We headed into a vineyard and were greeted by the hot, acrid smells of rotting fruit and fermenting grapes, before Nillo handed us over to the man he said was the best guide on the vineyard, Jose. After a very brief introduction, Jose showed us the press, which was 150 years old, and the distillery. He talked pretty quickly with a strong accent, and reeled off a ton of facts so fast that I barely followed any of it. Still, Jose was really entertaining, and taught us a lot about the pisco and wine making process on the vineyard. The tour was over fairly quickly, and finished, like any good pisco tour should, at the bar, where we sampled shot after shot of the various types of wine – including two known as ‘baby maker’ and ‘divorce’ wines – and piscos. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of neat pisco, but the wine was nice and it was a pretty fun experience.
Two days after the pisco tour, we set off on the full journey to Cusco. We were travelling now with Carlos, and like all our previous guides he was really friendly and great fun. We started with a three hour journey to Nazca, where we stopped by the side of the empty highway to climb the three storey high viewing tower. After the Nazca lines flight, this was a fairly disappointing experience; from the tower you can only view three of the lines, the monkey, the hands and the tree. However, we were much closer and could really appreciate the size of the lines, plus the viewing tower gave us a great view of the red-gold sunset over the dusty, pinkish brown desert plains.
After a cheap dinner in Nazca – again Peru Hop have snagged a pretty good deal with a local restaurant – we bundled on board the Peru Hop bus and set off into the night. The journey, like any overnight bus, wasn’t particularly comfortable, but an English movie and some other travellers to chat to certainly improved things. We slept most of the night, waking up at around 5am to the pretty streets of Arequipa. The sight of snowcapped mountains in the distance was something of a shock after the intense heat and monotone yellow of the desert, but the scenery was spectacular.
Once almost everyone on the bus had gotten off at their respective hostels in Arequipa, and we’d loaded up with a new batch of travellers, we headed off again for the final ten hours of our journey. This is one of the prettiest bus journeys I’ve ever taken, with stunning views out both windows of the rolling valleys, snowy mountains and green forests of the Andes. About mid morning, we stopped at a high point overlooking an enormous, glassy lake at the bottom of the valley. The sight was incredible, with empty blue skies, green hills, and blue-tinted mountains in the far distance, and the fresh, cold air really helped to wake me up after the long journey.
Finally, about twenty six hours after setting off from Huacachina, we reached Cusco. Conner, the second of Peru Hop’s two Irish owners, met us at the bus stop to give us a quick welcome to Cusco, and then put us all in taxis to our hostels (as the city centre roads in Cusco are way too narrow for buses). Although any twenty six hour journey is bound to suck, the various stops, the lovely guide Carlos, and the company of other travellers really made a difference, and I was so glad to have travelled with Peru Hop. However, I don’t recommend for anyone to skip Arequipa as we did; for one thing it’s a lovely city (we made time to visit after Cusco), and for the other, at least one night there (or more if you want to see Colca Canyon – which you should), breaks up the journey into two, easy to manage chunks!