It’s not every day you get to go on a trip like this. For a born and bred British boy like me, there’s always been an air of mystery surrounding Peru. It sounds forbidding. Wild and distant. The ancient realm of the Incas famed for human sacrifice and jungle civilisations. But perhaps more profoundly, it’s the fabled home of Paddington Bear that found its way deep into my psyche as ‘Darkest Peru’ when I was a kid listening to bedtime stories in the night.
Discover Your World
As a photographer and a creative I was naturally brimming with the anticipation of what I would find, who I would meet along the way and what situations I would find myself in. People kept calling it the trip of a lifetime, but it’s easy to buy a plane ticket and book some hotels. Travel is like that. Thinking about it can be daunting, but actually doing it is surprisingly simple.
Packing is not something I’m good at however, so I was very lucky that a meeting I’d had at Absolute sparked a conversation with the right people that ultimately manifested itself as a box of outdoor gear in the studio, just for me. Thank you Craghoppers. I am eternally grateful.
Eleven items of Craghoppers ‘Nosilife' insect repellant clothing and two ‘AquaDry’ coats meant that I was all set for anything a Peruvian adventure could throw at me.
In total the journey would take me over 7000 miles on seven aeroplanes, five river boats, one train, one car, countless minibuses, one coach, four days of walking and would last just short of three weeks. My aim was to collect images and experiences that would stay with me forever and return with an arsenal of stories and anecdotes that I could recount for years to come.
So on a cold September morning with a case full of camera kit (packed and re-packed a dozen times – “If you pack it, you’ll have to carry it”, the voice in my head kept saying) and the afore mentioned clothing, I set off on the first leg of the trip. Manchester to Heathrow, by car. And so it began...
6000 miles to Lima
From Heathrow, we flew to Amsterdam and then on to Lima. Total flight time: 14 hours.
On arriving in Lima, my first impressions were how USA everything seemed. The main centre is clearly geared up for the US tourist market. The district I was staying in, Minaflores, looked like a bitesized version of New York. Yellow taxis. Yellow traffic lights. Burger joints and Dunkin’ Donuts on every street corner. Not exactly the ‘Darkest Peru’ I was expecting.
It didn’t take me long to realise however, that this mini NYC was very mini indeed. You didn't have to drive very far from the centre until you found the real Lima. The boarded up windows and tumble-down buildings. Areas described as ‘wild’ by a local tour guide. Nonetheless, as with any new culture, I found it fascinating. The markets, the characters, and the most well-groomed stray dogs I’ve ever seen.
From Puerto Maldonado to Nowhere
From Lima, the next leg of the trip took me into the rainforest. A flight to the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado and then a two hour boat ride down the Tambopata river to Refugio Amazonas, the most architecturally impressive ‘wooden lodge’ I’ve ever seen. The lodge was completely secluded and (as with many places in the Amazon) the river is the only highway in or out. We were marooned. But wow, what a place to be marooned.
The rainforest is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. A kingdom ruled by plants and insects. As loud as a motorway 24/7 and as hot and humid as the whoosh of air you get when you accidentally open a dishwasher before its cycle is finished. A shout out to the Craghoppers clothing, that stuff is designed for hostile environments. Lightweight and cool but tough and with the added bonus of the Nosilife coating, I didn’t get a single insect bite the whole time I was there.
Four days in Cusco
Next on the itinerary was the mountain City of Cusco. More than 11,000ft above sea level, it’s a place where you can feel that air is in short supply. Whilst I did not suffer from altitude sickness at all, any kind of physical exertion did leave you quickly out of breath. The best solution I could come up with to get around this problem, was to just chill out. Perfect.
Cusco is definitely the tourist capital of Peru and we were offered everything from jeep excursions to handmade trinkets to traditional massages on every street corner. That aside though, it was still a beautiful place. With its cathedrals, churches and narrow streets there was an air of European-ness to it. Just like Lima however, you don’t have to wander too far from the tourist centre before you find that the streets are as wild and worn as everywhere else.
The Inca Trail
Everywhere you go in Peru, you see evidence of the Inca civilisation. It is clearly a huge cultural influence that every Peruvian we met was immensely proud of. Every time we told anyone we were going on the Inca trail they immediately got excited and started recounting their experiences of the trail and what we should expect from it. Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of it however.
Trekking through one of the most famous mountain ranges and impressive scenery on the planet, mixed with all the filth and stomach issues you’d expect from a camping trip in South America made for a very eventful four day hike.
The Lost City
After four days and three nights of camping and hiking, I was more than ready to arrive at my destination. Machu Picchu is more impressive in real life than you could ever imagine from seeing pictures. After waking up at 3am on the final day, I arrived at the Sun Gate and saw the epic view of the city and the Huayna Picchu mountain at 8.30am. It felt like walking into a painting.
Then came the selfie sticks. The ancient civilisation of the Incas meets the instagram generation of 2015. Unfortunately, the Inca trail is not the only way to get to Machu Picchu, and with the train come the tourists; I have never seen so many selfie sticks in all my life. That said however, the reward of seeing that view after working so hard to get there is something I’ll never forget. A once in a lifetime experience, literally, because I’m never doing the Inca Trail again.