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Published: March 27th 2009
044 - Peru - Cusco
03/01/09 - 03/13/09
Tourist ready Peru
Visiting Machu Picchu is like visiting the pyramids of Egypt or the Acropolis of Athens: hordes of tourists flock the grounds snapping photos, listening to their private tour guide explain the area in their native tongue, while screaming kids and old folks with canes hobble around distracting you from the sites. Still, you gotta do it. It's big, it's impressive, and it's possibly the destination spot for all of South America.
After over a year of traveling with a 'Do It Like The Locals' credo, Peru was a tough country to swallow. On one hand it's very tourist ready: lot's of facilities, well documented attractions, and English spoken pretty much everywhere. On the other hand, it's not very friendly towards backpackers or visitors that don't like pre-packaged tours or don't appreciate getting nickel-and-dimed by tourist-agencies with dollar signs glazing their eyes.
Here's an example. In Cuzco, there's a 'tourist' ticket you can purchase that gives you access to about 14 historic sites around the area (not including Machu Picchu). That's great if you're Indiana Jones or some anthropologist studying the development of Incan culture over
the last thousand years. But for us, we don't want to see 14 archaeological sites! How about just one or two interesting sites and museum to get a flavor of the old culture. Well, problem is, you can't purchase individual tickets to each of the sites. It's the full $40 package or it's nothing. Oh, and the transportation to Machu Picchu is ridiculous. Besides hiking the Inca Trail (it takes about 4 days and costs a small fortune) you're only other option is an overpriced tourist train. We took local transport (i.e. chicken buses) from Cusco to Ollantaytambo (2 hours and the halfway point to Machu Picchu) for about $3 per person. Then, we were forced to pay $60 per person for the second half of the journey (still less than 2 hours) for the train to Machu Picchu! Uggh!
Okay, enough ranting, we did have an great experience overall in Peru. First, we stayed at a fantastic hotel in Cuzco named Hotel Torre Dorado that Hannah's mother and friend gave to us because of a canceled tour they missed. The hotel was amazing! If you're going to Cuzco and can afford the western prices, I highly recommend staying
there! It even included free shuttles to town and back!
Also, our close friend Johnny Wu from New York City (who was also visiting Machu Picchu) met us in Cuzco for a few fun nights out on the town. He even convinced us to try the local specialty of 'kui', a delicious slow-roasted guinea pig!
Machu Picchu was impressive. Huge Incan ruins scattered high between the mountains. It was misty and a bit cold, but once the fog began to dissipate, it was like the clouds parted and exposed the treasure within. We got there early and hiked up a steep neighboring peak named Huayna Picchu. This got our heart rate racing and gave us great views of the Machu Picchu ruins. We also walked around the site and eavesdropped the numerous tour group guides explaining the significance of the rocks. We understood the versions in English, Spanish, and Italian, but were lost during the Japanese and Russian explanations!
Leaving Ollantaytambo we headed towards the coast to view the famous Nazca lines of Peru. It's unclear exactly when or how these lines were formed, but basically, they're a bit like crop-circles in the middle of nowhere. They're
best viewed from the sky so we went to the airport and hired a 4-seater Cessna and pilot to give us a 30 minute tour. Very cool!
We also went to Pisco, a city on the coast of Peru that gave it's name to the Pisco-Sour cocktail. Here, we booked an excursion to Islas Ballestas, also known as 'The Poor Man's Galapagos'. The Ballestas are filled with wildlife, and we spotted numerous species of boobies, pelicans, and sea-lions, along with a 'guano' collection area where they harvest the zillions of poop-bombs dropped by the seagulls every year!
We headed to Huacachina and visited the famous sand-dunes of the area and had our first experience sandboarding! We hired a guide to take us out in his dune-buggy and had a blast bombing down these sand hills. Check out this video of Hannah sliding head first down a sand hill! Click here
for the YouTube Link.
Finally, we went to Lima, the capital of Peru, and our departure city before heading back home. Here, we stayed just outside the trendy Mira Flores neighborhood, ate the fantastic seafood specialty of ceviche, did some last minute shopping, and reflected on our
last 13 months traveling the globe.
It's been the trip of a lifetime... but we're not done yet!! Part of seeing the world means visiting our own vast, beautiful, country. So, after heading home to San Diego for a few days, we'll pack up my parent's all-American Suburban with an air mattress, a stack of maps, new clothes, and set off across the country. America calls!!
Next stop, San Diego, California!!!!!!
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