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Part 1

I have to admit that the real extent of my knowledge of Peru was probably the basic stuff we learnt at school and the fact that it was the birthplace of the famous Paddington bear. Of course, there was also the war with Chile, I vaguely remember from newsreels.

Nothing was really going to prepare me for my latest trip. Yes, I always do basic research, vaccinations, clothes, scripts and making sure passports and visas are up to date, but I didn’t really understand the full extent of how vast South America is.

 

The trip was to be split into 3 areas, flying to Lima first and onto the amazon basin. Then up to Cusco, the legendary capital of the Inca’s and then finally onto Machu Picchu, the ancient lost city. We all met at Gatwick, Janice, my boss and Sam the cameraman who I have both filmed before and Chris the soundman, a friend of another cameraman I know. He’s a Ben Fogle lookalike, slightly younger, with a good sense of humour.

The flights were to be with Air Europa and first stop to Madrid, then an overnight flight some 12 hours to Lima. Check-in is the normal scrum and with very upset people who question you when you push to the front of the queue. As Sam said, ‘Could you feel the daggers in your back Phil?’ but I stress that it was agreed well beforehand before I get any complaints. Check-in was fine and quick. We went through probably the quickest security I have ever experienced. Well done Gatwick, spot on and very impressive.

After a quick and quite agreeable Chicken Tagine in Café Rouge, we boarded the plane to Madrid. The staff were smart and efficient, food okay, not brilliant.

All too quickly, we arrive in Madrid after only an hour delay and check-in for the next part of our long trip. The only problem being a 5-hour wait for an overnight 12-hour flight.

I was not sure what to expect from Air Europa but was pleasantly surprised. New plane, very smart, comfy seats and charming staff. Food was okay, but midnight was too late for me to be eating a 4-course meal. However, I did have a few bites, then it was lights out; that’s enough for me.

The flight was okay, and I slept pretty well, after a quick film and breakfast, we were making our steady descent into a cloudy but warm Lima.

Getting into Peru was fine, especially with all our kit, which can be a pain in some countries. On the other side, we met our first ‘fixers’ Bibi and Daniel. Bibi had set up all our contacts whilst we on our very tight schedule. While Daniel looks after many trips and organises flights and travel arrangements, both absolutely essential when we are so far away.

Taca airlines were to fly us to our first filming location is at Puerto Maldonado via Cusco in the Amazon basin. So, after check-in and saying goodbye to Bibi & Daniel we went through security again and settled down not really expecting what was to happen next.

Whilst in the queue, we noticed rather a lot of very important people turning up. Janice was sorting out a few bits and bobs. She returned to say that the entourage was for us and that Marco Arata and Gianpier Giachetti, their 2 top pilots were to ferry us around…how exciting, that has never happened before. We exchange pleasantries and board the aircraft, again upsetting the locals. There seems to be a pattern emerging here. On the plane, we set up all the cameras and mics and settle down. Marco then beckons us into the cockpit and says we can fly upfront with him. I ask him if it’s all okay and legal to double-check. His response is fantastic “Phil, this is Peru. Anything goes, sit down, and enjoy!”. So we did, Sam and me in the cockpit, with his camera and me with my small camera and GoPro. As we taxied out to the runway, we watched Jumbo jets take off. I had to pinch myself and ask where else in the world would this happen? We take off, all on camera and quickly climb to 30,000 feet, through the low cloud and into brilliant sunshine. Marco explains that it’s always cloudy in Lima and that as we fly over the Andes, the terrain will change dramatically on the way to a Cusco. He also explained that, wait for it, we would be 12,000 feet above sea level and that we would struggle straight away with breathing, eating and sleeping. We land in Cusco after flying over some breathtaking scenery, snow-capped mountains, parched landscapes and tiny villages. The runway is lined with houses and businesses, and we circle the surrounding high mountains. I think Marco was showing off, but it was great not only to see but also get on camera for a perfect landing. After a quick stop, we are soon off again on our way to the Amazon basin deep in the jungle and landing at Puerto Maldonado. It’s a short hop, and in no time at all, we are on the ground. Doors open, and we hit the heat. It’s 80% humidity and 35C; thank goodness it’s winter! We disembark, get our bags and wait in the heat. It’s muggy and close, but I’m glad to be here. We are recognized by 3 young teachers from the east end of London. We have photos taken and set off to check into our destination Hacienda Concepcion, via a beautiful butterfly farm and head for the river in a lovely restored truck. 20 minutes later, we are here, 3 or 4 boats ready to go. The area is quite poor, with workers in the river moving huge logs and little kids running about. The porters work hard with all our kit; they are small, stocky and powerful. We set off for 45 minutes in a traditional longboat that is quite unstable, Janice and I exchange glances. After a few minutes, we are speeding along the river, and you start to get a feeling that you really are in the jungle. Our guide explains that the river is swollen and is a bright, muddy red colour due to the heavy rains upstream. A bit tired from our 24-hour trip, the gentle motion of the boat trip relaxes me, and I nearly fall asleep. In no time at all, we are heading towards a bank with just a single man waiting. As we approach, he rings a bell, and two more men appear. The sun is fairly low in the sky now, and there is a wonderful light, and it’s very warm and muggy.

We moor the boat, and the porters have all the kit in the thatched reception/dining room in no time. It’s huge with a mezzanine level with spacious, if not sparse, rooms, with good-sized showers and comfy beds. We are greeted with chilled towels and a welcoming drink of pisco sour, a traditional Peruvian drink made from a distilled liquor mixed with sugar syrup, lime or lemon and egg white shaken with lots of ice cubes; it’s delicious.

We check-in and are shown to our rooms, and are invited to a very late lunch. The lunch is good with grilled chicken and beef with onions salad and a refried beans. Plus, the biggest sweetcorn I have ever seen mixed with a local cheese dish, all washed down with passion fruit juices.

We are shown to our rooms and told to get changed as we were to go Piranha fishing!!

We met our guide Alan, not sure if it was his real name, he is charming and well versed in all things jungle…thank goodness. He explains it’s a dangerous place with many animals, reptiles and insects that are deadly.

We go to the oxbow lake by the jungle lodge, which is calm and quite eerie. We climb into the boat, and Alan gently paddles around the jungle lake. The mosquitoes are everywhere, and Janice is getting bitten; we all are. We fish with strips of raw beef on simple bamboo poles. It’s relaxing and good fun. The little blighters nibble and tease us. I catch a small one, but the camera is not rolling…damn. Oh well, next time. We chat about Anacondas, spiders and any number of jungle creatures. Sadly, the sunsets and we do not get another chance. Oh well, it was nice to hear and see the many sounds of the jungle.

We get back to our rooms and shower, and get ready for dinner. There is a whistle on the back of the door for emergencies!! i.e. anything that should not be in your room whistle, and it will be dealt with.

Dinner is fine, salads, potatoes in various guises, and a local fish steamed inside fresh bamboo sections, all delicious. Off to bed, I must admit I did sleep with one eye open.

Part 2

Electricity goes off from 11 pm until 5 in the morning; it’s the jungle.

I am woken at 5 with the distant thrum of the generator starting up, it’s pitch-black, and I switch on my flashlight, and all is still. I did sleep really well, but it’s been 42 hours since we slept, as Chris reminds me.

10 minutes later, we are up, packed and ready to go, and we meet our guide for the day, Moses. Again, we packed as we were moving on to another lodge later. After a quick breakfast, we are off on the boat again 2 miles upriver for a 3k walk in the jungle Tambopata Lake. The air is misty and quite cool but muggy.

The reason for getting up so early was so we could walk in the relative cool. It gets sweltering and humid, so all treks and trips are done in the mornings. We check in to the ranger and set off. Moses explains that the lake is a national park and fully protected. Wildlife is everywhere as we film various pieces to camera, Capuchin Monkeys, Parakeets, Macaws and various spiders overrun the place. We finally get to a boat station and jump onto another long canoe. Alan steers us through the jungle then out onto the lake. Sunshine hits us. It’s now hot.

 

We paddle around the beautiful lake surrounded by jungle and see small Cayman, a sort of alligator, numerous birds, piranha surface all over the place. We film some more passing shots, decide it’s getting too hot, and paddle back into the jungle. Instantly it’s cooler and a lot more comfortable.

We gently paddle back to the station and walk back to the main river. By now, I’m tired, hot and very sweaty.

After the boat ride, we arrive at the Reserva Amazonica, a beautiful jungle retreat. It’s stunning, with a fully palmed reception, the main dining room and bar and some 40 stunning small rooms set in the jungle. We again are given chilled towels and a passion fruit juice.

We check-in and see our rooms. They are lovely, open-air and showers with crisp, clean linen, mozzie nets and yes, that whistle.

We all meet up for a lovely lunch that included beef kebabs, mashed potatoes with olives topped with avocado. Sweet potatoes and that lovely fat white corn, I love it. Fresh fruit and coffee to finish off, all served by Jimmy, our server.

Full and relaxed, it’s not long before we are off again, this time on a 5-minute boat ride to the canopy walk complete with a hundred-foot high treehouse complete with beds and toilet, now that’s cool.

Sam cameraman is scared of heights. But, mmmm, oh dear, we finally get all the shots we need, and it’s good fun.

Back to my room for a quick dose. The next thing I know, it’s 7 o’clock and dark. I jump out of my mozzie net and chuck on some damp clothes, and it’s so close.

I meet the guys, and we have a Pisco Sour. I’m getting used to this. Dinner is surprisingly good, considering where we are. I eat a Ceviche of local fish, very sharp for my taste, but lovely fresh fish. The other starter of Fava soup (dried bean) is a letdown, thin and tasteless. Steamed chicken with eggs and rice in banana leaves is good, fragrant and filling. Desert is a Dulce de Leche tart with Brazil nuts; it’s okay. A sort of caramel condensed milk cake, with chopped Brazils (Peru is the 4th largest producer of Brazil nuts in the world, they even use the spent shells in the jungle for their jungle tracks like gravel)

Again, no electricity ‘til 5, the sounds of the jungle are amazing, and I’m fascinated by it. So I wake early and get some pictures of the rising sun over the swollen river.

Breakfast is okay, scrambled eggs and a thick coffee; we set off the jungle farm that supplies the resort with fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s a far cry from any farm I have been on. We see small sweet bananas drying in the sun. Papaya, starfruit and tree tomatoes are everywhere. We film avocados, bananas, and cocoa pods and wild strong, spikey coriander before getting the boat to film upriver with a local family tribe.

As we arrive, all three generations are waving to us, dressed in tribal ware and faces painted. We all greet each other, and they show us to their camp. It’s a semi-flattened area of banana trees and bushes. Moses tells us that they are thrilled for us to be here and that the men have to paint the men’s faces, and Janice is painted by the females. We are taken through a few local rituals of singing, playing homemade instruments and making fire. They even have a spinning top competition; it’s fun. Then I have to dance with them, I’m sure they are having a laugh with me, but it’s quite moving. Next, they introduce me to their pet monkey, who is tied up to a tree. I keep my distance, and it will bite me, Moses explains. They feed him baby bananas. I ask why he is tied up, and they explain he will run off and cause havoc in the house.

We say our goodbyes and film them waving and back to the Reserva for lunch. It’s good with chicken bites with dipping sauce, beef stir fry with potatoes and salad. All finished off with fresh fruit.

The plan for the afternoon was to film with Antonio, the food and beverage manager showing off some of the hotels’ famous dishes. We then went into the jungle to film a short sequence. Moses explains that the jungle is a dangerous place and points to a small hole in the ground. This, he explains, is the hole of a Chicken Spider; it will kill you, he blithely explains. He strips a long piece of grass and chews the end. He then gently places the grass into the hole and tapping the edge. Within 10 seconds, he takes a pace back, and slowly a huge, hairy spider appears; it’s bigger than my hand. It creeps out, attacking the end of the grass. I’m taken aback. As quickly as it appeared, it was back in the safety of its burrow. Wow. Its name comes from the fact it will eat various things at night, but especially baby chicks. We walk on, and Sam nearly walks into another large spider in a web. Thankfully it will not kill you but still will put you in hospital for a day or two, Moses explains helpfully.

The afternoon is moving on quickly, it’s really humid, and we still have to do our cooking slot for the film. Antonio is organizing the cooking station on a low sandbank on the river, some 10 minutes away. I’m going to be preparing my version of the Peruvian classic Ceviche. So that’s a fresh fish marinated in lime or lemon juice with some raw red onion. There are many variations on this theme. I plump for a version that includes garlic, ginger and jungle passionfruit juice. The passionfruit I tasted on the farm was sweeter and softer than any I have ever tasted before.

We set up and film with the sun setting and with the jungle in the background. It’s perfect. Well, I thought so. So the crew got bitten alive, we had a quick beer and went back to the Reserva for a cool shower.

My other new friend turned up with a Piranha for us to cook with, sadly it was a bit late, and so we had it for dinner. It has an acquired taste; put it that way.

We are up early the next day to film a quick sequence of fillers, some in a hammock, in my towel, entering and leaving the room etc. etc. Then, after breakfast, we start the long trip to the Sacred Valley. First, we take the longboat for 1 hour upriver the way we had arrived a few days earlier. Then, off we get and take the open truck to the airport.

The flight from Puerto Maldonado back to Cusco takes no time at all. First, we land and get all the gear together. We are to be staying at the Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel. We have a good lunch washed down with Koka tea. Next, we film in the square and the streets, finally arriving at La Chomba, a famous local restaurant. It’s been here for many years and specializes in all local foods, including a famous fried pork dish with red onions, large white corn and large boiled potatoes. It’s lovely but huge, and I can only eat a third of it. Next, we film a local band that spark up in the restaurant, complete with pipes and drums. I’m surprised they can stand up, let alone play instruments and sing; they are half cut.

The next table is tucking into what looks like a squashed chicken. After a quick conversation, it turns out to be Guinea Pig, complete with curled up toes and head. It’s a speciality here and eaten at festivals and celebrations. More on this later.

We finish filming and then set off to find a bar to try the local speciality drink the Mojito at a bar called Angolitos and bar owner Walter. Tripadvisor reckons it’s the best Mojito in the universe!! It was good, but I’m knackered, and it’s very cold here, a far cry from the jungle. When we get back to the hotel, the outside temperature is only 4C, contrasting the jungle. I sleep badly, headache and a full stomach, not good.

Part 3

We film Koka tea in the hotel reception and try some and have a nice breakfast the next day. Our guide and driver are waiting, as we now have a 1½ hour drive to the sacred valley. The drive takes us out of the city and over the high pass. We stop at about 11,000 feet and film and take pictures, and it’s breathtaking…literally. Finally, I fall asleep, and we wake up descending in the sacred valley and its main town Urubamba. It’s quite a large place, nestling along the valley bottom. The contrast is amazing, from a parched mountain landscape to a lush green valley. We were to stay at the brilliant Sol y Luna hotel. It’s very nice and a far cry from the jungle.

Here we meet Nacho, the very talented chef. In no time at all, we straight out with him to meet a local farmer who grows many types of fruit vegetables for the hotel. The farmer and his family are lovely and are a bit bemused by the camera. We see tree tomatoes growing, along with many herbs I have never heard of names like chincho, a sort of pungent rocket, plus potatoes and salads. I collect some for my cooking slot later. We say our goodbyes and head into town to the local market. Again it’s a sight to behold—many stalls selling some amazing produce. Piles of peppers, herbs and fruits are everywhere. There are so many things I cannot remember them all. Every turn, Nacho shows me something new. It’s good fun, but I can see my crew getting frustrated, so, with some reluctance, we depart back to the hotel.

Here Nacho explains he will cook us a lunch of local specialities using all ingredients from the valley and a local farmer.

The lunch is superb with wonderful bread, empanadas. There are also several types of boiled potatoes with salads and dips. The meats are delicious; pig heart kebabs with the softest meat possible and a brilliant wood-fired oven-roasted pork with superb crackling and deep flavour.

Desserts are good too, with churros and dipping syrup and wonderful petit fours. Drinks include a sweet fermented, refreshing corn drink called Chicha, a brilliant purple, slightly sour, and passionfruit juice.

The next minute music strikes up, and we are treated to a Peruvian horse show, complete with full regalia and the most disciplined horses I have ever seen. Dancers appear, and we are entertained for the best part of 40 minutes.

Full to the brim now, I sip a strong cup of coffee and think about a quick nap. No chance, off to cook on the high pass. Nacho had organized a working party to go ahead and get the cooking station ready. So some 30 minutes outside Urubamba, we drive to one end of a huge lake. The backdrop is stunning snow-capped Andes and a long range of mountains as far as the eye can see. I start to set up but quickly realise that we are nearly 12,000 feet up. The air is so thin that I struggle to string a few words together. Even leaning over to pick up my beef, I’m out of breath. One thing did occur to me back in January. I was cooking at the lowest point on earth, some 400m below sea level, on the shores of the Dead Sea. Now at probably the highest point I have ever been and struggling.

I cook a quick stir-fry of red onions, garlic, and raw potato sautéed for a few minutes. Next, I add some Chicha, the fermented corn drink, this time a yellow version. After a few minutes, I add tree tomatoes, local red chilli and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I heat some oil in another pan, add chunks of beef or Alpaca, and cook pink, remove, and keep warm. Add large white corn kernels, salt and pepper and fresh coriander and chicho. Finally, add the meat and warm through. It’s simple and straight to the point. I ask Nacho if he is happy. He smiles and gives the thumbs up. A few locals can’t really comprehend what is going on and look really confused. We get final shots of the food and film a short piece to camera. Thank god that’s over with. I take one more look at the beautiful view and wonder if I will ever cook in a more stunning place, probably not!!! We’ll see that’s what I thought by the Dead Sea and also on the banks in the Amazon, oh yes and in Alaska…
We descend back into Urbamba and head to our rooms, knackered. I shower and lay on the bed. The next thing I know, it’s dark and 7 pm.

The crew are already in the restaurant sipping mojitos. I join them, delicious. Dinner is good. I’m beginning to realise Nacho is a serious cook and a restrained and gifted one also. Bread is superb with chilli, crisp breadstick the winner. Next, I eat confit guinea pig legs, with rocket salad, salt potatoes and dipping sauce delicious. Next, pan-fried lake trout, with white corn cake, again very good. Dessert was a panna cotta with sweet pickled tree tomatoes and syrup on a crisp biscuit base. This is good stuff, and in the middle of nowhere, I’m impressed.

Off to bed as we have a long day tomorrow.

Part 4

I have an abysmal night’s sleep, waking up every hour or so panicking that I cannot breathe. It’s weird and a little scary. This is coupled with the fact that I think the malaria tablets are not helping. I meet Janice for breakfast and hear she has diarrhoea and is not feeling too good either. When Chris arrives, he is the same, so we are all a bit jaded. However, we have a long day ahead, and it’s getting warmer, so we set off to Maras to film in the saltpans.

 

We pick up our guide and set off on a 30 minutes trip out of the valley again to the outskirts of a town called Maras. Apart from farming, salt mining, or more like evaporation, provides work in the winter months for many families. We stop at the top of a long dusty track and film the many saltpans below. The history is that many centuries ago, a salt-water spring was discovered and even to this day really is only a trickle. The water was then channelled into many small ponds so the sun can do its work. Now there are hundreds of them, most of them handed down from generation to generation. The water is fed into them and then shut off by simple means of rag or pieces of plastic bag. Over the next 2-3 weeks, the water is driven off by the hot winter sun, leaving a thick cake of salt crystals.

A local family had come along to show us the procedure of harvesting. At the right point of evaporation, the salt is first broken up by barefoot. This is a circular walking motion until it has all fractured. The husband and wife team are pretty good at this. Then with small wooden slats, the salt is skimmed into piles and then either trodden on again or broken up with the wooden slats. This is then placed into large nets and drained quickly, then tipped onto a cleaned area to dry further.

The top layer is the best quality, fairly white and with large crystals. The second lower layer is then harvested. This has a brownish hue to it. This is dried in the same way but few to the animals in the summer as it is second grade. Nothing is wasted here; even the kids get stuck in. I ask our guide if it was a profitable business, he says it’s about £10 per day. The family stop for a drink of Chicha, the fermented corn drink. They always tip a little on the ground the raise their cup to the skies to thank the gods. It’s seen as very bad manners to refuse drink or food from the locals. I stand well clear while in my current state.

It’s sweltering now, but the locals think it’s cold. It must be 35C. So we start the long trek back to the bus, passing German’s and Japanese. It’s hard work, especially when you can’t breathe!

Back on the bus, we set off to Maras to film a local dish being cooked and a demo on making Chicha.

We arrive, say hello and crack straight on. I understand a little Spanish, so I can vaguely interpret it as we go along. First, the large white corn kernels are dried, then soaked with corn leaves and left to germinate. Once sprouted, they are left in the sun for 1 day, then ground into a powder. Next, water is added then left outside to ferment in large stone jars called Chomba’s for 24 hours. The result is a very weak, warm, milky, fermented drink. Finally, we sit together and do a piece on camera. I’m sure this is what started me off yesterday, so I’m careful. It’s an acquired taste, that’s for sure.

Next, a local farmers wife is filmed cooking a local vegetable soup thickened with ground-dried corn. The kitchen is full of Guinea Pigs, all sizes and ages. They are eaten all over Peru, and they treat them like we would Christmas turkey for a special occasion.

I taste, yes it’s okay, and we then go to the other kitchen for lunch cooked by our guide’s wife and mother.

We eat some local cheese with large white corn kernels and local sourdough bread. Next, lake trout with cheese topped potatoes and broccoli then poached tree tomatoes (theme here) and syrup. All very nice, but not feeling good!!!

We say our goodbyes, and the lady on camera goes back to the fields to work. We film just outside Maras a piece to camera and go back to the hotel.

This evening Nacho has prepared for us a wine matching dinner in the special wine cavern; it’s all very smart.

We all start with Pisco Sours and then are invited into the cellar.

Bread arrives, 3 types of breadstick, this time including a green herb version, a herb we had picked this morning on the farm.
Appetisers are heavily smoked trout, nice and dry, ricotta dip with olive oil. Plus crispy pork skin with bitter chocolate and olive oil, lovely and warm potato soup in a glass, all excellent.

Next, wild mushroom consommé with ravioli with great flavour and crystal clear. Ceviche quickly followed with bright purple seaweed balls (Heston has a lot to answer for) very strong but good.

Guinea pig followed with chutney and salsa. Alpaca jerky with garlic and onions was good. I love the fried garlic.

Lamb mince brochette with black quinoa and chincho was really powerful but good.

Finally, desserts, poached tree tomato and a plate of citrus desserts to round off a spectacular meal.

The wines were superb, Argentinian, Chilean and Peruvian all could keep up with any other country in my eyes, very, very good.

Petit fours then bed…this time sleeping a bit better.

We say goodbye to Nacho and get a bus 45 minutes up the valley to get the train to Ollantaytambo railway station. Here is the first part of my trip to Machu Picchu, lost Inca city, wow…

The road is really bumpy, but we finally arrive. It’s hot and humid already, and it’s still early. After some confusion, we meet Armando, Inca Rail’s topman. He is going to accompany us all the way in the Presidents carriage. We film on the train tracks, in between two trains passing. It’s fine, as the saying goes (“Anything goes in Peru’) mmmm heard that one before somewhere, although Janice was a little worried. Our carriage is attached, and we finally get and are greeted with chilled towels and yep…a Pisco Sour. Sam and Chris are sent in a pick up to go some 2k down the tracks to get some passing shots.

We relax and take in the President’s carriage. It’s superb, brand new with swivel armchairs, wooden panelling and full bar and service. There is even a special Phil Vickery menu to welcome us aboard.

 

We set off after a few minutes and get chatting to Armando. He is hilarious, and it turns out he worked for British Rail in the sixties and seventies in Crewe and knew all about railways. We tease him about the state of the railway network in the UK some years ago. He, in turn, says our food in the UK is awful apart from raspberry sponge and custard they served in the canteen!!! We get on really well, and before long, the lads are back on, and we are served a superb lunch. The scenery is stunning as we hug the river right up the valley. It takes roughly 1½ hours, and as Armando explains, the climate will change from a parched landscape to lush subtropical rainforest. Its breathtaking, and we occasionally pass the famous Inca trail camps and small hostels.

Back to lunch, we start with a Chilcano drink and delicious fried/roasted sweet corn ears, warn salty and delicious.

After the appetiser, we had Ceviche. Next chicken with mayo and potatoes and Huacatay leaves. The fish course was trout cubes with 3 chilli sauces, anticucho and creamy quinoa. This was light, perfectly cooked and really nice. Finally, a fruit salad and a deep purple jelly pudding, fresh and a nice way to end a cracking journey and meal. The service is outstanding and in complete control was Camille and barman Hugo.

Some very nice wines also accompanied the meal Don Nicaner and Nieto Senetiner, both Argentinian.

Armando entertains us with some good stories, the best one being that Mick Jagger had rented this very coach a few months ago.

It’s not long before we get to Aguas Calientes station, and it is now mid-afternoon.

Thankfully our hotel is right beside the train station and tracks, so our kit is taken for us. We check into the sister hotel from the Amazon part of our trip, the Casa Andina Private Hotel. It’s very nice, and we are met by the manager Marc, who is charming and very helpful. The staff are also very clued up, and nothing is a problem. We are shown to our rooms after a glass of chilled tea from the hotels own tea plantation. It’s strong, smokey and hits the spot.

My room is perfect, comfortable and spacious with its own fire and outdoor thermal pool. I’m a lucky boy.

I relax and do some writing before hopping into my pool. It’s very refreshing even though it’s hot and warm outside. The good thing is that it does cool off very quickly once the sun goes in or at night, so we are sleeping well.

Part 5

We meet up with our guide, and he shows us the tea plantation, lovely grounds, hummingbirds and orchids. We finally arrive at the bear enclosure. There are 3 bears here, all rescued. 2 of which are being looked at until they can fend for themselves. The older one is too old now and will end his days being looked after. He is very friendly, and we are allowed into his cage (yes) to film him. I mutter to Sam and Chris ‘anything goes………….” We all laugh. That night we eat in the main restaurant, it’s good and bustling. My fish cakes are okay, but not special. I feel like a number here. Back to the room and bed early. We had to be up at 5 to get a good position in the queue to get the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu.

My phone goes off at 4.30 am. I get up, feel good after sleeping well. Stumble about a bit and pack my rucksack. I meet the bleary-eyed boys and Janice in reception. It’s just light, and we sip tea. Our guide Rueben turns up, and we all say hello. He’s quiet and rather shy. We head off out of the hotel and across the railway tracks and head into town. It’s not long before we see the long queue to get the small bus to the top of the mountain.

Chris befriends a rather rough-looking dog in the queue. He’s nice to start with but then turns slightly more aggressive. I stand clear, he then turns his attention to an American lad, and we gently tease him. The queue moves on and after 35-40 minutes. We get on and make the 30 minute trip to the lost city. I’m quite excited, and as we get higher, the sun starts to creep over the top of the surrounding mountains. We spend a few minutes going over the licence to film. Eventually, we are allowed in and make the 10-minute walk to one of the most spectacular views in the world. There it is in all its early morning splendour. The Inca lost city of Machu Picchu takes my breath away. The light is perfect, and we all stand slightly quiet for a good few minutes.

However, we are here to work, and we have to kick on as the place will be heaving in a couple of hours. We film on the terraces, and in the main part of the city. Rueben then takes the Inca trail over the mountain to see the Inca bridge, built to keep out any unwanted marauders and is part of the Inca trail. Rueben runs off and walks across the flimsy bits of wood and is quickly whistled at to get off by another guide as it’s unsafe (see pictures) not sure why he did it?? It was clearly fenced off to the public. We then return to the terraces set to one side of the mountain and film a few more pieces. By now, it’s filling up, and the sun is high in the sky; it’s a hot one today.

Rueben explains to me that the Incas were here for the best part of 200 years in a quiet moment. They were very skilled farmers cultivating more than 3000 varieties of potatoes and 50 types of corn. They also domesticated Alpacas and Guinea pigs, as we have touched on, still eaten today. They brought us Quinine and Cocaine. When the Spanish invaded and went to Cusco, they killed all the Incas. News soon spread to Machu Picchu, and the city was abandoned. It was left largely undiscovered until American explorer Hiram Bingham brought it to the world’s attention with his groundbreaking expeditions in 1911 and 1912. I have just started reading The Lost City Of The Incas by Hiram Bingham. It’s a fascinating book and suggests anybody who plans on going or having been should read it; it’s very interesting. The only downside is the fact that on his returning trips, Bingham is said to have removed some 42,000 artefacts and taken them all back to America. Strangely enough, no gold or silver was taken back, which clearly upsets Peruvians, especially Reuben.

After a long morning, we leave the site and have some lunch, my stomach is still playing up, but I’m famished…. After a nice lunch, including some lovely ham /pork, we line up to get the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We chat with some young American lads who got up at 3 am to trek to the summit, very impressive. I use the excuse of having all the kit etc. etc.
We say goodbye to Reuben and think he’s a bit pissed off with the tip we give him. Oh well.

Back at the hotel and have a drink and a bite to eat. We entertain ourselves with my novel footage of trains leaving the station (for my dad, he’s a train fan). The boys have massages, Sam not sure, feeling his body has been invaded. Chris was more worried about his smelly feet after a long day in the mountains. They return smelling like a Boot’s counter. Janice and I gently tease them.

Our train back to Ollantaytambo is at 7 pm, so we have to check-in at 6.30. So with a couple of hours to kill, we set off for a bit of souvenir shopping for family and friends.
Our bags are delivered to the station, and it’s getting dark. The station is packed, but over the melee, we spot Camille looking immaculate. He sees us, and all is well. We then spot Armando and are quickly taken through a side entrance to get back onto the President’s carriage. It’s a breath of fresh air, cool, chilled towels and a welcoming drink, fantastic!!

Armando is not very happy, as a rival rail company has delayed us due to the breakdown of an earlier train. But he is quick to add another carriage and scoop up the stranded passengers. He wryly smiles and rubs his hands.

Looking out of the window, I’m quite sad to leave, but what a trip and film. Within a couple of minutes, we are told we are going to have a Pisco tasting, complete with a judging sheet and taste panel. Not really what we wanted, but after a few minutes, we are all in the spirit of things, literally!!! Armando clearly is in the spirit, and we taste a few varieties of this Peruvian favourite.
Dinner is also served, starting with delicious, hot, salty roasted ears of corn.

All too quickly, we arrive in Ollantaytambo, and our bus is waiting. Camille is accommodating, and we say our goodbyes.
Now we only have the 2 hours 30-minute trip back to Cusco, its 9.30 pm, and we are all slightly worse for wear.

I fall asleep and wake up, dropping back into Cusco. It’s cold, probably 2C outside. We get back to the hotel and check-in. Straight to bed, as we have to be up at 5 am to get a flight back to Lima, getting ready to go home.

We all wake up; Janice is slightly late and shouts at me when I ring to see if she’s okay. Meanwhile, we pack all the stuff onto the bus again. It’s just getting light and is very cold. Cusco is eerily quiet, but the tiny airport is packed.

Here every bag is checked by hand. There are no x-ray machines. Not quite sure of the point of the exercise. The chap is clearly not really interested, and by the time he’s gone through the 3rd Peli case, he waves us through.

We line up to get onto the plane bump into the two American lads we saw at Machu Picchu. They are still in good form and clearly happy to be getting back to California.

We josh with the check-in lad as he sets up his own PA system, which looks like a home Karaoke system. He then checks his hair in the departure doors, we all laugh.

Finally, we get on the plane and settle down, the snack they serve is not very good, and the coffee is too strong. Yes, I fall asleep again. We all do. Before we know it, we are landing back in Lima, and it’s grey and overcast. Daniel is waiting to whisk us into downtown Lima to the Atton Hotel. We drive through the outskirts, and it’s like any large city. We chat with Daniel about Peru’s most famous footballer export to Newcastle some years ago, Nobby Solano.

It seems weird to be back in a large city. I sort of feel like Crocodile Dundee when he first goes to America. But soon come back to reality with a very acceptable Cappuccino.

We have a couple of hours to catch up on the Olympics, the first chance I have had and have a shower and shave.
We are picked up at 12 and driven off to film a demonstration of making ceviche at a top local seafood restaurant. We drive to the coast, and I am impressed with the surfing beaches. There is some confusion about where we are exactly going. Security seems everywhere, a bit like Cape Town.

We arrive at Sonia Pescados De La Isla and knock on the door. We are sort of welcomed in, but it’s all a bit frosty.

Sam goes into the kitchen and moves a table or two, and sets up the light. Camera-ready to go, and Sonia starts to prepare. Sam stops here, as he is not ready. She is not happy and rolls her eyes, oh dear…in the end, it’s all over in a flash, and she looks a little smug.

We set up in the restaurant for the finished dish and a piece to camera. This gives her a few moments to check out who I am on the Internet. Things change after that, not over the top, but more smiley and helpful. We leave after she relieves us of 300 quid, not impressed.

Oh well, we move onto Malabar, a restaurant that specialises in local ingredients. The chef here is a consultant to Nacho’s, Sol Y Luna, in the sacred valley, so I’m expecting good things. I was not disappointed.

The sous chef Jose Ragazzi will cook for us, and we start with a thin sliver of foie gras and dried apple slices. Next, scallops with ginger, coriander, caigua (green vegetable) are excellent.

Dark, crisp potato skins filled with fish, onions, tomatoes and local herbs. Shrimps with 3 types of Yuca, straw potatoes, tapioca and squid ink in butter sauce is exceptional.

Next course, not too sure about sous vide egg, crisp potatoes with a meat reduction and crisp fried Alpaca strips. I’m stuffed now, but a load more to go.

Giant water snails with Chorizo and blacktail fish with pork knuckle are also top drawer.

We call a halt to the food after the first dessert course of chocolate torte, a sort of Marjolaine, a famous French dessert.

Coupled with bitter chocolate ice and crunchy nut wafer.

We all wobbled out and got back into the bus, and officially that was a wrap, all done and dusted. Back at the hotel, we chat about the evening and what we were to do. The lads want to go drinking and clubbing, I’m happy to write and stay in.

We compromise on dinner, I wanted a steak and a big one at that. Afterwards, we all meet at the bar, Sam is pissed off because he’s being ignored. Chris laughs, and Janice gently teases, again.

We get a cab and go downtown, we arrive at the Argentinian Steak house. Unlike me, but forgot my notepad, also can’t remember the name, plus I can’t find it on the Internet.

However, it’s a cool place and has valet parking.

The menu is only meat, and there is no white wine, just red. We walk over to the fridges and look at the superb meat on offer. It has all the cuts plus testicles and chitterlings.

So, I order testicles and a large rib eye. It’s delicious and hearty. We all have a great time but struggled to do the meal justice after such a big lunch.

Giving puds the red light, we set off back to the hotel. Yes, early start back to Madrid in the morning, so it’s up at 5 am again. We pick Daniel up on the way, and he helps us check-in, nice and easy. We say goodbye to our driver and Daniel and go through security and have a coffee.

After a bit of shopping, it was on the plane, only 12 hours to Madrid. Day flight but arriving in Madrid at 5 am in the morning, then back to Gatwick at 9 am, getting in at 9 am, all very confusing and too long to explain.

What a time we had, and apart from reading this, it’s too much to explain to people, including the family. So, I’m not going to try. But I am getting ready for my next ‘Cook on the wild side’ adventure. Off to Norway next week, Tromso here we come, cooking the biggest crab I have ever seen, keep an eye on the site for the next instalment.

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