It was a 2-hour drive from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Naturally, a pee-stop is required. And all the more if you’re traveling with me. LOL. We requested our driver to stop by a gasoline station, but thankfully, he had another brilliant plan— a stopover at a textile shop with a loo, yahoo! That meant shopping plus a suprise “educational show” from lovely Peruvians. Learned about weaving and alpaca textiles. Beautiful Maria, the main ‘host’, showed us how to make lipstick out of Cochinita (cochineal), “a small parasite that lives on the cactus plant that makes the reddish tones.” I tried it on my lips and it was red as can be. I love spontaneous stopovers, don’t you?💓 #supportlocals
“The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.”
And dreamt and hustled I did to a place with an unsolved mystery — Stonehenge.
It was unplanned. I woke up to an early morning downpour and found myself grunting, “oh, bed weather.” But I remembered I was in London and was on day 2 of 3 days to wander around. Why waste time in a place full of possibilities, just sleeping off the day, right? So, after a hefty breakfast in my pretty laidback hotel, I grabbed my umbrella and headed towards the Underground. You can join bus tours or hire a car to the Stonehenge site, but since Paddington Station was just 30mins away (4.50 GBP) from the Waterloo Stn., where the trains to Salisbury were to be found, I opted to tour independently. It was a costly (39 GBP) 2 hour ride but the free wifi on board ain’t seem that bad an idea (excuse the slang). I snacked on my nuts and vitamin C drink and looked out the window with views of rooftops and chimneys from old houses that all looked the same. Boring to some but peaceful for others. I go with the latter.
It was before two o’clock in the afternoon that I reached Salisbury Station. The Stonehegetour double decker bus was on its final journey and I was relieved to have made it. We were a handful of tourists: 3 couples, a family of 4 and 1 Chinese lady and me. It is always better to come early so you can still go to the Cathedral in Old Sarum and roam around the city but if pressed for time, Stonehenge alone can be had. I paid the driver (35 GBP) on the spot and sat on the upper deck to get a good vantage point of the countryside. There was a herd of sheep on green fields, a flock of blackbirds on gray skies, and on a narrow road, trees huddled together to bless our bus with their leaves.
We reached the Stonehenge Visitor Centre at about a quarter to 3 PM, where a minibus was waiting to bring us to our final destination.
And finally, for what seemd like ages (pun intended), we made it to STONEHENGE (all caps intended). It was a slow motion moment with silent drumbeats and exclamation marks punctuating my vision. It’s what dreams are made of.
The strong gusts of wind and the impending sunset in the horizon added drama to our visit. I did selfies for all I care and stared at the stones forever. The “Whys” and “Hows” questions left unanswered. And when the sun has finally set, when the blackbirds disappeared, when darkness started to creep in and the stones were just silhouttes, that’s when I knew I had to leave.
And I thanked God for letting me witness another miracle.
Till the next one!
It was bound to happen. My fixation on Princess Di (I have books about her), Becky Bloomwood (Shopaholic Series), Downtown Abbey, Sherlock Holmes (the tv series ), M&S and scones (with clotted cream) had to lead somewhere— to its origin, sooner rather than later. London was a call I had to answer.
Repercussion was, I was alone. But thankfully, with the help of the Undergound Station, navigating London was smooth and easy. I didn’t have an itinerary. I went where my feet could take me.
It was only a 15min distance from the airport to my hotel near the Paddington Station, via Heathrow Express train. And as suggested by a kabayan who I met working at the station, I bought a day pass metro card to take me around.
Proximity to the metro station is always my main concern because I thrive on trains; a room with its own loo comes in second because I love my own space.
Thanks to the inventor of selfie sticks, it is handy for the solo traveler— for picture taking and to act as a weapon for obnoxious strangers. But no, London is safe and clean. It is diverse with a good mix of asians, caucasians and europeans— my anxiety was brushed aside because I didn’t look like the odd one out. London is like unraveling a history book on royalty and chivalry. Its magnanimity can draw you in and drown you. My inner fan was cartwheeling with every familiar site I saw that I have only seen in movies. Even Pret A Manger was familiar, as it is referred to often in the Shopaholic series.
I went outside Buckingham Palace, toured inside Westminster Abbey, saw The London Eye, Big Ben (under construction), prayed in St. Paul’s Cathedral, got sentimental by the Tower Bridge, bought fresh cherries at Borough Market, shopped for food at Marks & Spencer, bought supplies at Boots and had a mini heart attack seeing the facade of Sherlock Holmes Museum— all a stone’s throw away from the Station.
“Do something every day that scares you” and that was the mantra I was chanting in my head the day I left for London. And the way back to Dubai? I was singing: “I made it through the rain” because it sure did rain the next day.
If you’d ask me if I liked it? I’d say yes, I enjoyed my own company. I was in control. I would go back. But I would prefer to travel with someone to share the ordeal with. Someone to share the blame with (ha ha) and laugh with the highs and lows.
Traveling solo is redeeming and adulting. A faith rebuilder and cementer. The truth and dare. A breakthrough. Do it at least once in your life. London is not a bad idea. It is best consumed alone for 2 days and then to share for the rest of the week with someone. And oh, lemme know if you plan to visit because I have unfinished hoarding to do at M&S & Boots. LOL.
Day pass = 12 GBP/ Heathrow Express = 40 GBP/ Westminster Abbey = 22 GPB / St. Paul’s Cathedral = 18 GBP / Buckingham Palace/ London Eye / Big Ben / Sherlock Holmes Museum/ Tower Bridge
Madrid-Lima : 11 hours flight (Iberia Airlines)
Lima-Cusco : 01 hr 30 mins flight (Avianca Airlines)
Cusco-Ollantaytambo : 02 hours by car
Machu Picchu is reminiscent of an oversized Minecraft game (no kidding!). The big blocks of stone terraces, vast fields of green grass and the blanket of fog hovering in the horizon were testament to this (my) realization. The nonexistent gamer in me was unleashed each time that I was on the cusp of aborting the “mission” to reach the top.
Choose the morning group for a less crowded space. The lone toilet was in the entrance and it was about a 5-hour hike so better wear an adult diaper if you can’t hold it.