Published: June 25th 2010June 25th 2010
Guardian of Macchu Picchu
Actually just a great picture I took that I wanted to show off.
So much has happened that this blog is doomed to be super long so no introduction and I´ll probably skim over the things that happened that have no photos... mostly because I suspect people only look at photos anyway. (I had some trouble uploading the photos so they may not be in the correct order or correspond with the text nearby, sorry).
Not much to do in Lima, I spent my time waiting to pick up Sara from the airport but luckily, Roxana invited me out to lunch that day. She and her friend Juan and I went to a very fancy seafood restaurant and I ate some things that I can´t quite translate but everything was excellent. Highlights: a purple juice made from purple corn called Chicha (can be alcoholic but this wasnt), Yuka fries, this excellet little peanut-esque snack made from giant corn kernels and lots of yummy sauces on random seafood items.
Roxana was nice enough to drive me to the airport and wait for Sara- who arrived safe and sound- and dropped us off at the Soyuz bus station in Lima. We grabbed the next bus to Pisco, which is where we would spend
Sara´s first night in Peru! (tip for travellers- Soyuz is an okay company, that is ideal and cheap for short rights but not very clean or comfortable for longer or overnight rides). Four hours to Pisco, we make arranged for the next day and find a hostel.
We had an early pick up and were off on our tour of ´the poor man´s galapagos islands´or Ballestas Islands. The one day tour also included a drive through Paracas national park. The islands were beautiful (though the ride was freezing) - we got to see sea lions, cormorants, pelicans, and penguins up close and personal - including a miles-long-procession of cormorants from their spot on the island out to fish. Does cormorant ring a bell? You might be remembering my last encounter with cormorants in China, documented in writing and photos on this very blog.
Paracas National Park is a desert and coast line, which is beautiful and unique enough. The fact that the desert used to be completely under ocean and was therefore covered with fossils made in a really interesting park. The tour we were on was a little too stop and go for us, and sara and
I largely ignored the guide´s talks for the amazing views.
After picking up our bags from our hostel, we were back on the road with Soyuz to Huacachina, via Ica. During our short stopover in Ica, we tried to book overnight tickets for the next night to Cuzco (18+'hrs) on Cruz del Sur, the comfy luxury line but it was all booked. We ended up with Flores bus line, about half the price but (we hoped) not half the comfort or safety. Onward to Huacachina, a beautiful oasis in the desert - which you might recognize from a few posts ago, but I just thought I´d catch up any new readers.
Oh yeah, on this day I realized I lost my ATM card at some point - I think I had left it in an ATM machine in Lima. Sara took out money to hold us over and in Ica, I used skype to call my credit card company and cancel. I switched money to another accound and Im back on track.
The plan for the day was this: nothing. Enjoy the beautiful desert oasis, eat yummy food, go for walks around the tiny town (appr time: 15
minutes) and wander up a nearby dune to get a view. And then for our descent, we naturally chose to slide down the dune on our butts (we didnt have boards!), filling our pants with sand and our faces with smiles.
After lounging in front of the pool for a while, we headed back to Ica for a quick food shopping before our 7pm bus. 7pm? make that 8:30pm but it arrived eventually - the seats were comfy, the bus was clean (not including the bathrooms... don´t ask for details) and we were on our way to Cuzco.
We both got some sleep and tried to think of the second half of this insanely long ride as a free bus tour of the Andes Mountains - the views were incredible. We finally arrived (after an annoying amount of stops... another downside to companies other than Cruz) around 3pm in Cuzco. We took a long walk from the bus station to the hostel, stubborning ignoring the taxi drivers and wandered the town until we got to Estrellita Hostel (translated: little star), which was recommended to me by my buddy Ricardo, the owner of Duque Inn at Puno. The hostel
is cute, cheap and has a good location. We put our stuff down and went on a search for dinner. At this point we made the fatal mistake of wandering into the high end touristy part of town too hungry to say no for long. We settled on a pretty fancy place and ended up paying too much for too little food - the Ávodaco Natural salad (S/10 - 10 soles) was actually just an avocado sliced up and the tortilla (ahem - omlette) left something to be desired. Still hungry and some soles short, we found a guy on the sidewalk selling apple pastries for a fraction of the cost of our dinner and finally felt full. Lesson learned there.
Woke up early and stored our big bags with the hostel for the next two days, while we went a wild goose chase for the best way to get to Macchu Picchu. We bought tickets for an 8am comfy van to Quillabamba, with plans to get off at St. Maria - we got food in time for it to leave an hour late anyway and we were on our way - a four hour, white-knuckle ride on
the narrowest roads imaginable next to some of the highest drops through the Andes Mountains. The views were beautiful and terrifying and somehow arrived safe and sound in St. Maria. Without enough time to find a bathroom or lunch, we jumped onto the colectivo (15 passenger van) to St. Terea. I was lucky enough to sit up front and made friends with the driver, Carlos Roberto, and the other Peruvian passenger. I learned alot in that ride, including were coffee beans come from (he stopped the van, reached his hand out the window and grabbed a few coffee berries!) and more than a few bad phrases in Qechua under the guise that I was learning casual greetings. But as they laughed harder and harder, i realized that maybe I shouldnt repeat anything I learned on that ride. They also pointed out Coca plants and told me that the area also grows cocao.
Once in St Teresa, we took a break for bathrooms and found spagetti lunch. Then we were back on the road, sharing a taxi to the hydroelectric plant that also served as a train station. From here our plan was to walk to the train tracks to Augus
Caliente - a 2 hr hike. This hike is relatively common because the train leaves once a day and, I was told, is hard to get to tickets for. But we were running a little late, worried about arriving in the dark and realized we had gotten to the station as the train was boarding anyway. Still determined to walk, we were told by someone to wait for the train to leave so we wouldnt have to worry about getting out of the way. Standing with the boarding passangers, we realized it was kind of stupid and stubborn to let it leave and follow behind it. So we bought tickets and boarded the train.
We arrive in the dark into Auguas Caliente (literally: hot water, named for the baths nearby. Also known as Macchu Picchu Peublo because it exists almost entirely as a starting point for visiting the site). The town is touristy but really beautiful as it sits nestled in between beautiful mountains on all sides. After finding an ATM, buying tickets for the next day and falling victim to the overpriced, undertasty restaurants again we turned in early.
We wake early... well early in general but
actually an hour later than intended because I was so sleepy when i set the alarm that I set it for 5am instead of 4am. Oh well, its still dark out and we find our way over the train tracks to where the trail starts. We are decided to walk up the mountain to macchu picchu instead of taking the bus, which is extremely overpriced and somehow less cool than walking up to this monumental site. The first 20 minutes of the hike are on the road with the busses, which isn´t so fun because of the bright headlights, high speeds and peruvian don´t-even-consider-slowing-down-for-pedestrians attitude but we enjoyed hiking along the river anyway. Once we cross the bridge, we have an hour on a mostly stepped path (steps might not be the best for hiking but at least the busses can´t take em) - the hike is beautiful and its getting lighter every minute - the world turns from a vague black and white to bright green as the sky lightens and the sillouhettes of the mountains make themselves seen. We are hiking through jungle now - no monkeys but lots of cool plants and bright flowers. We stop frequently
because we are already at a high altitude and getting higher, not to mention sara hasn´t quite recovered from her cold and this early morning hike isn´t helping. But more or less within an hour we reach the top, wade through the crowds as they get off the busses and stumble through security onto Macchu Picchu.
A quick and rough explanation of Macchu Picchu: despite it being one of the famous archeological and historial sites in the world, little is known about the actual function of Macchu Picchu. It is a small city carved out of the top of a mountain, built by the Incas and used by them for some time. The city is theorized to be everything from a vacation spot for the king and his court to a long lost (and never mentioned in any records) capitol city or perhaps an important trading post between the east and west coasts of the South American continent. The city then was ´lost´ to the world for the years of the spanish colonialism - the entire indeginious population of Peru ´forgot´to tell the Spanish about this magnificent city and, therefore, it is still remarkably well preserved and intact (unlike
the rest of the Inca fortresses and temples, which were all raided and ruined by the Spanish). Enough with the history lesson, on with the travels.
We made sure to get there early enough to enjoy the site before the masses arrived, which was a great decision. We wandered the ruins, finding small rooms to ourselves and discovering the intricate system of water-management which has water running through all parts of the stone city in miniature aquaducts. I may not have a wealth of information here because Sara and I chose not to do this trip with a guide - we don´t seem to do well with guides. Sometimes they are helpful and often know a lot, but also want you to see what they choose, have their agendas and dialogues planned out and are always there, its kind of annoying sometimes. I bought a book that provides a photo-based tour of the site and we referenced it a few times but I think we both deicded that we´ll probably forget the facts and statistics anyway and we´d rather wander around, find cool things, take pictures and enjoy the site that way. So we did.
There is no eating in the park so we had to go back outside to eat our breakfast (and lunch) of bread, yogurt drink and energy bars. We continued to wander after breakfast for an hour or two, but eventually needed to take a break because I was winded and Sara´s cold was catching up with her again. We rested for a while before returning for one more hike - we took a long walk around the side of the mountain, away from the main site towards an ´Inca Drawbridge´. The bridge, to be honest, wasn´t that exciting but the hike was on a narrow path carved right into a steep mountainside and gave views of the surrounding mountains and river below. See picture for this one.
This brought us to about 12:30 which might sound early in the day to those of us who hadn´t been hiking since 5:30, but we were exhausted and went back to Augus Caliente - I won´t say how we got back down there, but we walked up in the dark and that´s all that matters. Sara passed out and I spent some time figuring out how to get back to Cuzco without spending an entire day traveling, we ended up splurging for the slightly expensive backpacker train from August to Ollantaytambo, from there we took a colectivo back to Cuzco. This happened early the next day but I´m getting tired of writing so my attention to detail is slipping.
We got back to Cuzco over the course of 5 hours and walked straight into a festival!
A bit has happened since then but I´m tired so I hope you enjoyed this and I´ll try to update tomorrow with photos and stories about Inti Raymi, the ancient Inca festival worshipping the sun god! Stay tuned!