From Cusco to Ollantaytambo [YQrtw Day 105 Jul 23]

Ollantaytambo

Location: Cusco -> Ollantaytambo, Peru

Surprisingly, my bus arrived on time at Ollantaytambo station. It was 6am and the inside of the windows of the bus were heavy with dew.

I collected my bags and decided to wait in the bus station until 7 before I catch a cab to the station where buses to Ollantaytambo are.

When the time came, I went out and waited a long while before a taxi I trust stopped. I didn’t want to follow those whose taxis were parked outside because of cautions I’ve heard in Arequipa. Still, the cabbie overcharged me but I accepted the price anyway.

It felt like a long way with many twists and turns before we reached the stop to Ollantaytambo. There was an empty van waiting and the driver ushered me in.

Shared van to Ollantaytambo
Shared van to Ollantaytambo

The driver put my bag on top of the van. I was afraid it might fly off from the roof but fortunately, he went off to buy ropes when we left the station.

However, it was a long while before he drove off. We waited for more people to get on the bus. I didn’t have anywhere to go so it was an OK wait.

I was sitting in the front row where an elderly lady in traditional clothing and two long black plaits joined me. Another man (who happens to know the lady) sat next to her.

While waiting, one of the mobile phones rang. I was delighted to find that it was a generic Chinese-song ringtone. Either the owner did not know how to change the song or he was happy with it.

Finally, the bus was full and off we went. During the first part of the drive, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I saw an amazing sight. The mountains and the hilly fields were in patches of yellow (because of winter?) One of the fields even had a half-harvested wheat-like field.

Checking in Ollantaytambo

Narrow lanes of Ollantaytambo
Narrow lanes of Ollantaytambo

The bus finally arrived in Ollantaytambo  after about 2 hours. The driver noted that we were passing the main square (where I should have got off) but I didn’t react. I had to walk on about 1km of cobble stones to get to my hotel.

One of the guards on the street gave me wrong directions so I wound up on the wrong side of the little square. The tourist information ladies finally pointed me in the right direction.

Combined with the lack of sleep and stress, I was unpleasant at check in. The boy at the reception didn’t speak English and seemed not-so-familiar with alphabets and numbers.

When I found out that my room was given to a Ricardo and I had to move to my real room tomorrow, I was pissed. I raised my voice about disliking having to move around (communicated more with hand gestures than actual comprehensible Spanish) and questioned why the rooms were so expensive–US$30 a night!

I shouldn’t have done that because the poor boy was the only one working. I saw him clean the rooms, clean up the dining room and all sorts.

I calmed down when I saw that my room included a double bed and a single bed. After a nice hot shower and a hot cup of Ceylon tea, I was sane again.

I went off to explore, stopping for lunch at Heart’s Cafe.

I walked to the railway station to find a hotel nearby so I can check in immediately after coming back from Machu Picchu on Friday night. I found a local hotel (hospedaje) which charged only 30 soles a night (about half of my room in town). I paid the deposit and gave them a date. I had to go back when I realized that I gave them the wrong date.

The rest of the day was spent trying to blog, heading to another cafe and being awed by the majestic mountains.

Majestic mountain near Ollantaytambo
Majestic mountain near Ollantaytambo

Tomorrow, I shall start sightseeing.

Tourists ask other tourist to take photos of them in a tuk-tuk.
Tourists ask other tourist to take photos of them in a tuk-tuk.

Adios Arequipa /On a posh Peru night bus [YQrtw Day 104 Jul 22]

Oltursa bus ticket

Location: Arequipa, Peru

I have been in Arequipa for two weeks. It’s kind of funny how I ended up staying in a place I’ve not heard about before my trip and which I only learned about at Iguazu Falls.

Not sure if I’ve told you the story about the Peruvian girl who told me that the weather in Arequipa is always warm and it is known as the City of Eternal Spring. I jot down the name in my iPhone notebook and forgot about it until I needed to plan my Peru trip in Santiago.

I’m glad I went to Arequipa. The language school I went to was great, stuffing my brain with different past tenses and some future tenses.

The city was beautiful with buildings built with limestones. Food in Arequipa was good too but I suppose this is true for Peru.

I didn’t do much on my last day in Arequipa. I finished packing and checked out of my room. Then I went to a cafe where Tripadvisor reviews promised good coffee.

I managed to find “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. The book cost only 4 soles (S$2) and is surprisingly thin. But from the first chapter that I’ve glimpsed through, everything you need is still there.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Spanish
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Spanish

Tasha (not her real name and previously known as N in my entries) still had her room with the hostel so she let me take a nap in the spare bed. How nice it is to be able to lie in a bed!

Finally, it was time for me to head to the bus station. I was really stressed out because the smallest note I had was a 50 soles note and about 4 soles in change.

The hostel didn’t have any change for 50 soles neither. I always find it funny when businesses do not have enough change lying around.

In the end, I had to tell my taxi driver that I only had a large note and that I was willing to be charged an extra 2 soles to get change back. He didn’t quite get it until the end but all was well.

On the taxi, the driver asked me if I am married/ do I like Arequipa/ when will I come back etc. I answered all of that in Spanish. (Not very good Spanish but still…)

10-hour Oltursa bus to Cusco

At the bus station, I found the Oltursa counter and started my check in process. At the counter, the guy weighed my suitcase, stapled a label with CUSCO on it and a serial number.

Oltursa bus tickets
Oltursa bus tickets
Oltursa check in counter
Oltursa check in counter

Then I paid the 2 soles “exit tax”. I find it funny that we need to pay bus terminal taxes like airport taxes.

There was also a carry on luggage check. The man felt my bags (all 4 of them) for what I think is alcohol because the video on the bus said no alcohol is allowed.

Then everyone hung out at the lounge. The lounge had comfortable sofas but not enough for every passenger. Thankfully I found a 1-seater sofa and hogged it with my stuff.

Oltursa lounge in Arequipa
Oltursa lounge in Arequipa

Among all the passengers, I spotted 4 British girls while the rest seemed to be from Latin America. From what I’ve heard, Cruz de Sol has loads of foreigners. I’m kind of glad we didn’t have that many chatty foreigners on this bus.

Soon it was time to board the bus. My seat was the very last on the lower floor. The facilities on the bus astounded me. This is definitely the best bus I’ve ever taken.

Oltursa cama seat
Oltursa cama seat

The seat is big with comfy cushions. There was a small pillow and a blanket waiting for me on my seat. On the right of my seat were two electric outlets. I immediately made use of it by charging my phone.

The seats are able to recline quite far but not enough to be called an actual bed although the type of seat is called “cama” (bed).

The bus left at 8:35pm, just 5 minutes after the scheduled timing. I guess that is considered really punctual in South America. (Not that Malaysian buses are any better.)

Once the bus started moving, we were served dinner. The main dish was rice and fish with a side of tequenos while the dessert was a rice and quinoa mix.

Main dish on Oltursa bus
Main dish on Oltursa bus

There was either coffee or tea to go with the meal. The bus only had the teas preferred here: spiced tea with flavors such as anis, cinnamon and others. I still have a supply of ceylon tea from Sri Lanka so I chose to have that instead, along with a tea spoon of sugar.

There wasn’t any movie playing on board although there was a video of safety in Oltursa buses and some travel program about one of the destinations covered by the company.

I got ready for bed soon because there was nothing to do on board. My phone could not connect to the internet and I do not want to use my laptop because I have motion sickness when trying to read on a moving vehicle (trains and planes are alright though).

I sent mom a text message telling her how good the bus was. Her reply was that she could not read my message. I totally forgot that my Claro SIM card could not send out messages in Chinese. How is that even technologically possible?

Anyway, I went to bed in my seat with my eye mask and ear plugs. When I woke up for the toilet, I realized how cold it was outside as the little cubicle was freezing. As the bus swerved violently, I laughed out loud and my breath caught in my chest. Was this the work of altitude sickness, I dared not investigate and instead went back to my seat to sleep.

How to replace a travel guidebook with apps

travel apps to replace a guidebook

For my 4-month trip, I did not bring any physical guidebook with me. My backpack was too small to stuff any guidebooks so I relied heavily on my phone for travel planning.

Although I have PDF copies of some Lonely Planet guidebooks in my computer, I find them  awkward to read on my small netbook screen and even worse on a smartphone.

For travel planning while on the road, I rely heavily on my almost 3-year old iPhone 4 and internet connection. It’s a bit laggy but it works.

I have some apps which I adore for travel planning and I want to share them with you. I only know apps for iOS so if you are looking for Android versions, give the name a Google to see if Play Store has it.

I’m dividing the apps into different periods of travel planning and the relevant apps. For me, the stages of travel planning include:

  1. Knowing more about the place
  2. Booking accommodation
  3. Deciding where to visit, see and have fun
  4. (Bonus) Audioguides

Some of the apps are useful for multiple stages of travel planning so don’t rule them out if you’ve completed the different stages.

1. If you want to know more about a place

At the beginning of location-specific guidebooks, there are usually a few pages (but definitely more than the list of Places of Interest) on the history and culture of the destination. I enjoy reading those when I’m not travelling but while on the road, it’s a bit of a drag to read about what happened 100 years ago.

Instead, I have two apps that work like offline versions of Wikitravel. I forgot the name of one of them so I’ll tell you the other that I know of.

Wikisherpa

WikiSherpa

With the app, you can download Wikitravel-like entries for different destinations. That’s actually it’s weakness because it means that you will need to load the app with destinations instead of surfing randomly for different places.

Still, the app is useful for reading up on a destination and to know safety tips for where you are going.

2. Finding accommodation

One of the most painful parts of travel planning is finding the right place to stay. I get a bit OCD like Goldilocks, flipping through webpages and webpages of different accommodation before finding the right one.

The best thing about mobile booking apps is that they have user reviews. Granted some users leave crazy reviews but generally, you get a good idea of whether you want to stay at the place or not.

Booking.com mobile app

Booking.com

I think this apps is less user friendly than HostelWorld’s app because you cannot have a calendar view of the dates. My mind works in a monthly calendar view.

I used to think that people who booked hotels through mobile phones were crazy. But then I became one of them. It’s much easier for me to lie my bed, click around for a room and booking it immediately.

Hostelworld.com mobile booking app

Hostelworld.com

I like the calendar view when choosing the dates but that’s not what makes this app good. They have a good selection of hostels when you don’t think it’s worth paying double the price for hotel rooms.

3. Deciding places near you to visit, eat and have fun

So you’ve done up a list of places to visit after reading the information from app in stage 1.

Now that you are in the city itself, you don’t really want to spend all that transportation money to somewhere far when you can cross places nearby off your list.

Foursquare mobile app

Foursquare

Before using Foursquare, I thought it was an app for hipsters to show off where they’ve been. This function is still there but I discovered that it can be very useful for travelling.

I use it to discover popular places to eat and what dishes to have. When you save a location on the app, the saved location appears when you are offline as well which is good to avoid getting lost.

The app works better if you check into places (like those darn hipsters) because then it will know if you like cemeteries more than shopping malls.

Tripadvisor City Guide app

TripAdvisor Offline City Guides

I love offline apps and this is my favorite in places where I do not have 3G connection. However, only major cities are included so yu might need to use its less offline-friendly brother.

I use it as a map and guidebook for food and places of interest.

Tripadvisor app

Tripadvisor (requires internet connection)

To be honest, I hate this app because it takes forever to load. But it’s useful for locations not included in  TripAdvisor City Guides since it shows the same content.

4. Audio guide

I found Rick Steves Audio Europe app majorly useful while I was in Europe. I adore the walking tours for the different cities and the museum audio tour which I listen alongside the official museum audioguides.

The copyright of the apps belong to their owners.

Relevant reads:

From Bootsnall: Are Guidebooks Necessary for the Current Travelers?

From Instagram The World: Around the World without a Guidebook

Do you have apps for travelling to recommend?