So this is the first moment in the last 5 days that I have even had a moment to think, and go figure I’m on a plane headed south. It’s been a whirlwind since I left Austin less than a week ago. I was lucky, or cursed, to have enough points to purchase a business class ticket down to Peru along with the rest of my family. This was my first time to fly in the fancy seats, and I fear that I am spoiled from now on. I flew from Austin to Chicago to Miami and finally to Lima, meeting my family in Miami for the last leg. It took me the first two flights to figure out all the fun details like how to make the seat move around and not to be excited when I got warm nuts and warm cookies along with my actual coffee mug. I’m sure none the less that I stood out like a sore thumb. I will enjoy my flight home just the same, never thought I would actually look forward to a flight so much.
So enough of the fancy seats, we arrived in Lima around 9 pm in the evening
and spent the time getting our bags, going through customs and immigration. The process was fairly simple, but as I repeated to my family on their first arrival in South America, the theme of the trip is “patience”. I don’t think they get it yet, but I keep reinforcing that everything gets done, just not quite so easily and quickly. I had booked an airport transfer for us and it was nice to see the sign with our name on it waiting at the exit of the Lima airport. We were “whisked away”, or crammed into a small cab, for our 45 min ride into Miraflores in Lima. The hotel was very nice; I call this fancy traveling because it sure beats the hostels I stay in. We decided to hop in a cab and head out for dinner since we only had one real night in the city together.
Thanks to Rita’s suggestion we took a cab over to Astrid y Gaston to enjoy a wonderful and tasty dinner of appetizers and pisco sours. Pisco Sour is a big drink in both Chile and Peru, so I have been enjoying them for some time, but just now introducing
them to my family. Dinner was extremely good and we were happy to get back to the hotel to crash and get some sleep.
The morning came very early as we had to catch a cab back to the airport for 45 minutes in order to grab our flight to Cusco. We were all pretty delirious, but the 1.5 hour flight to Cusco was fairly easy. We flew TACA which was quite nice and were only caught off guard when the plane had to do a complete U-Turn in a canyon to drop down and land. Cusco is at about 11,000 feet in altitude so we arrived a couple of days before our trek to insure that we would be acclimatized and ready to go. Once again it was nice to see our name on a sign and the people at Casa Andina Private Collection took very good care of us. The hotel was fabulous and very well located in the old city. We decided to take off and get a view of the city. It was only a few blocks to the main square, so we headed that direction with the rest of the tourists from around the
world. We were lured into a restaurant on the square which I am sure was overpriced but the food was actually quite good. It was a nice view of the cathedrals from the restaurant and we enjoyed the scenery and a little local music during our meal.
We dropped by the SAS Travel Peru office to check in for our trek and ended up signing up for a day tour of the Sacred Valley for the next day. This was by far one of the better decisions we made, even though it meant we had to get up super early for the third day of many more to come. The tour started early by picking us up at the hotel and promised a day of inca Ruins and beautiful views. We were not disappointed. We started out the morning by driving over the pass to Pisaq where we saw a large, well preserved Inca site up in the mountains and then spent a brief moment in the market down below in modern Pisac. After our brief stint buying some handicrafts and some warm hats and gloves for our trek, the bus headed on down the sacred valley where we
In the Andes
Not sure if this was the 2nd or 3rd Pass
stopped for a quick buffet lunch. Afterward we headed to Ollalyntaytambo which is the launching off point for Machu Picchu. There are some amazing ruins there and it is the only city in the Sacred Valley that is still built upon the originally Inca city. The streets are quite narrow and are still cobblestone. The ruins were terraces up the hill above the city and also on top an old temple (destroyed like everything else by the Spaniards) that was made of stones that were absolutely gigantic. Across the valley you can see some storage houses on another mountain as well as some pretty incredible “faces” in the hill that are set to direct sunlight at certain times of the year, like winter solstice, through the “eye” of the face. The Incas really had an incredible grasp on astronomy and the direction of the sunlight throughout the year. The ruins right above the city were meant to be in the shape of a Llama, which is pretty incredible they could figure out how to build such incredible things. Our last stop was at sunset in the town Chincheron where we visited some local women who showed us the traditional way
Enjoying beautiful views as a family
to make wool yarn and then how to color it using materials from the area, all natural the way that the Incas did for years. Then we had the opportunity to buy some things of course. They had a funny area for the guinea pigs to play in which I thought was hilarious since “Cuy” is actually a local dish that you find on most menus. I didn’t have the nerve to eat the little creatures especially after seeing them in their little palace. We ended our tour with sunset at a Spanish church up on the hill overlooking the mountains. It was really an incredible view and a great end to the day.
The next day we packed up our things into small duffel bags and were up by 5 am to catch our bus to our trekking adventure to Huchuy Qosqo. We had originally signed up in March for the Inca Trail 4-day trek, but since we had to change our trip because of the floods in January, we were unable to get a spot. I believe this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We were joined by a couple from Australia, Ave and Lis.
Leading the Way
They are in their late 20’s and on a 4 month trek through South America. They were an absolute delight to have along on our tour for the two days. We set off on the first day through some sacred Inca baths up to our first pass which was around 13,000 feet. We kept going throughout the day, hiking through the Andes Mountains with gorgeous views and not a soul in sight besides some local llama and sheep herders. Overall we climbed 4 peaks during the day, all above about 13,000 feet reaching up to 14,000. The most amazing part is that you would look around and see more mountains towering over you like you were just hanging out at like 8,000 feet. Incredible. We climbed the four passes and then started our descent towards the sacred valley, stopping for a lunch break which our porters and cooks had prepared. It was amazing, they set up a small camp for us and we enjoyed a large home cooked meal with fresh ingredients from the mountains. Then, as we climbed our way down the most peaceful and incredible canyon I have ever seen, they raced ahead with all our things to
Our setup at lunch
prepare camp for us at the Huchuy Qosqo ruins. We came out of the canyon and stumbled upon an incredible view of the sacred valley, thousands of feet below us. We all sat on a ledge and just overlooked the beautiful mountains and towns below us. We could actually hear the people at a local soccer game in the valley below cheering. It was only a short hike from there until we reached the ruins where we would stay the night. I was blown away that we could camp right in the middle of the ruins with such an unbelievable view. Our guide, Alex told us intriguing stories about the Incas and their history while the porters finished setting up camp. The history really sucks you in when you are sitting amongst the very place where it all happened hundreds of years ago. We did one final climb up to the campsite (which was very painful after so many peaks in one day) and then took our “afternoon tea”. We all stayed in the dining tent through the evening and enjoyed swapping stories with our new Australian friends.
The night was pretty chilly and hard to sleep at such
Beautiful walk through the canjon
a high altitude, but it was all worth it when in the morning we unzipped the tent to receive our tea and saw the beautiful sunrise upon the mountains, the valley and the ruins. It really is a magical place. After a hearty breakfast, we set out, straight uphill. NO really, straight uphill. This trek really was perfect, quiet and beautiful, but there was a LOT of climbing. This last pass just about did me in, but in my pure determination I pushed myself to get up to the top. As before, it was totally worth the pain. Every mountain we climbed gave a new view and new landscape. We spent the rest of the morning making our way down the other side of the mountain towards a beautiful lake and down into a small local town. We found our porters and crew at the end of the town and they had set up an awesome lunch for us. We enjoyed it and a short nap in the sun before packing up the van and heading down to Ollalyntaltambo to catch the bus to the train up to Aguas Calientes, the launch point for Machu Picchu. Normally you could take
In the Canyon
the train from the city, or even from Cusco, but after the unbelievable floods in January, parts of the train track are still knocked out, so they have to transport everyone to the train station at marker 82 which is where the Inca Trail trekkers head out. We all fell asleep in the bus on the way but quickly woke up to transfer to the Peru Rail buses and then the brand new train that took us, very slowly, up to Aguas Calientes. 17 km takes about an hour and a half, seriously. We made it to the town, found our hostel, ate some dinner and then all crashed quickly.
The next morning came VERY early. Parks and I decided we wanted to make sure we made the list to climb WaynuPicchu, the mountain above Machu Picchu. They only let 200 people in at two times a day, 7 am and 10 am. In order to get one of these slots you have to be standing in line at the bus station at around 4 am. So we got our “wake up call” i.e. a knock at the door at about 3:45 am. Yes, you read that right. We
Parks and I
in front of an early morning Machu Picchu
grabbed a piece of bread downstairs, checked our bags and turned the corner to be about the 10th person in line. Then it was time to wait…for an hour and a half. We met some really cool travelers around us that we chatted with for the wait. There was a little bit of a problem with people who woke up late, cutting in with their friends in front of us, but whatever, we were too tired to care. I met a lot of travelers, many traveling to Santiago, and discussed with them the Tripeezy project. It is great to be here amongst so many travelers who love the concept. It really is a sub culture of its own. I ran into 3 couchsurfers in just one day at Machu Picchu haha. Anyways, the bus departed at 5:30 am, with us on the first one! The ride in the dark was pretty normal, except you could see the outline of all the mountains as we climbed up the side of one. It was really beautiful. We arrived at the site and were surprised to already see about 50 people lined up for tickets. We hurried off the bus and got in
Beating the crowds in the gate!
line in time to get our slot for the 10 am hike. Success!
Immediately we decided to enter the Machu Picchu site and catch some photos before all of the tourists attacked like flies. We were lucky to see the sunrise and get some incredible photos with NO people in them. It didn’t take long though before the masses descended upon the site and we were late to meet our group tour, of which our parents were a part of. We managed to locate them and two new additions, a couchsurfer from New Zealand and another guy from DC. We took our 2 hour tour around the site and discovered every little piece of Machu Picchu. It really is amazing, even after so many ruins. Because it was abandoned and the Spanish never found the city, it was completely intact and they were able to learn a lot about the way that they carved the stones to build such amazing cities. We enjoyed temples, acoustic plazas, stones for sacrifice, and a sun “dial” that the sun hit at different times of the year. The llamas grazed the grass which apparently saves them a lot of money not having to
cut it all the time haha. When the tour was over, we all grabbed a snack and a drink before the young guns decided to head out for the hike up WaynuPicchu. Now let me tell you, I am thrilled that I made this hike, but I was pretty certain at many points that I was not going to make it up to the top this time. Between the altitude and so many summits over the two days before, my body was just about to quit on me. With some encouragement from my new friends, I climbed up the steep stone staircases to the top of the mountain and the lookout point. The stairs in some spots were so steep that I had to literally climb up, yes I have short legs, I know. Anyways, the view from the top made it totally worth it. We spent some time climbing around the ruins on the top (where the guard house and lookout point for Machu Picchu used to be). Finally, we decided it was time to give our legs a rest and get to the bottom. As my brother put it “I have never done so much before 12:30 in
my life”. We scurried down the stone pathways back to the ruins at the bottom and off to meet our parents for a pisco sour in the Sanctuary Hotel, which is the only hotel at the Machu Picchu site. It was my dad’s birthday, so after all the hard work, it was time to celebrate a little. We decided after some relaxing time to take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. Then my dad and I treated ourselves to an hour of reflexology, which cost basically nothing, and my mom and brother took some time to shop the markets. Our train took off for Cusco at 5:30 pm, and we took it to the marker 82 and then herded ourselves with the crowd to the point where we were split in different buses. The bus ride wasn’t the most pleasant of my life, but we were happy to arrive back in Cusco for our night of luxury at the Monestario hotel. This is by far one of the nicest hotels in the area and we treated my dad to a massage package for his birthday the next morning. The restaurant was nice to stay open late and to accommodate
us with a beautiful “private” dinner for his birthday. They even brought him a dessert!
So here we are. Now we are headed down to Santiago for a brief stopover and then off to Mendoza for a few days to relax, get our bodies back to where they don’t feel like someone beat us up, and drink a lot of wonderful wine. Mendoza is the capital of Malbec, which I happily discovered in February. Unfortunately due to the Earthquake, I never was able to write my blog for Mendoza, so I promise an awesome one upcoming. Life is good, everyone is happy and healthy, and I am getting a lot of work done recruiting people to help test some of our reviews in Santiago. Not a bad job, eh? Hope all is well with you all back in the States and wherever else.
Im adding more photos from Machu Picchu later tonight to my picasa album. There you can view all my photos from the 5 days in Peru. http://picasaweb.google.com/cpaigebrown/Peru#
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