Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cusco


This trip was going to be different for us in so many ways. We weren't going to a modern city, we were going to a 3rd world country in a totally remote area and just like everyone else, we went backpacker style :) I wish I took pictures of our backpacks. The temperature was supposed to be 32-75 degrees, so we had to pack layers of clothing because they don't have heat. Hot water was listed as an AMENITY in a lot of hotels. So in true backpacker style, there were no blow dryer's or curling irons, just the bare minimum which included 1 hat for me.
We left a day early and spent the night in Atlanta. We laughed because we stayed in a really cheap place and we thought it would be a 5 star hotel compared to what we were going to be staying in. Our flight to Lima left the next day at 5 pm and we arrived in Lima at 11 pm. We weren't sure of the time change so we were pleasantly surprised it was truely only 6 hours from ATL. We purchased actual tickets (so cheap!) to Cusco from Lima and it left at 5:30 am, so with all the other backpackers, we spent the night in the Lima airport. We played a lot of travel scrabble on this trip. I'm so glad we picked that 5 am flight out because this was the beginning of what we were about to witness. This is on the flight from Lima to Cusco. Daylight was breaking over the Andes Mountains and we were right above it the entire flight. We were at 30,000 feet elevation and we felt like we could reach over and touch the Andes. It was one the most beautiful moments ever.


We arrived in Cusco at 7 am. It was FREEZING. We found our hotel driver and we were off! I picked this hotel off Tripadvisor. It was so cheap and it had GREAT reviews. It was right across the street from the local market....you know the one that sells pig ears and chicken feet. It wasn't in the best part of town, but it was where the locals were and we felt totally safe! Upon our early arrival, they gave us complimentary Coca Tea. That's right, those are Coca leaves (what cocaine is made from). It helps with altitude sickness and Cusco is at 11,000 feet elevation. Luckily she had a room ready for us with seperate beds. We didn't really care as long as we could get showered and rested. Well, rest didn't come easily. We had an outer room and the market played local music from 8 am-8 pm. It's a good thing we ALWAYS travel with earplugs! This is our hotel, cost us a whoppin $30/night. It was actually nicer than our ATL hotel despite our feet hanging off the beds :)


We loved the people of Peru. They are very unique and everyone wears hats. They are some of the kindest people we have ever come across, willing to go out of their way to help you. We never felt like we were taken advantage of. We made a few purchases and we didn't even barter, everything was so cheap. I felt guilty I wasn't paying more. I loved to people watch out of our hotel window. The music (as annoying as it was in the morning) made people watching that much funner. YES! That is an Alpaca! There were 2 little boys walking down the street with them. I loved this little boy!


The architecture in Cusco was mostly Spanish Colonial. Cusco used to be the center of the Inca people. When the Spanish arrived, they tried to demolish the buildings, but it was too difficult so they built on top of the Inca buildings. It was neat walking everyday and seeing the Inca history. The bottom photograph is the first Catholic church in South America.


This was our first meal in Cusco. It was weird how we had no appetite in that high of elevation. Joe's brother served in Peru and had mentioned Inca Cola. I had to try it. I loved it the first few days, but towards the end of the trip it made me sick. In a nutshell, it tastes like drinkable BUBBLEGUM.

Cusco City Tour


The first day we were there, we didn't do too much. We got much needed rest and we went around town canceling everything for my dad. He was supposed to go with us, but he had a hard time getting to ATL and ultimately didn't go at all. Our second day we did a little shopping in the morning, then we went on a city tour. We visited the main square, the cathedral and Koricancha (Temple of the Sun). The tour also included these ruins pronouned "saxywoman". It was used as the ceremonial center for religion and political activities. It was originally 3 stories high, and the stone we're standing near is the largest, weighing 120 tons. We really couldn't tell how massive it actually was until we walked across the field and were able to envision the entire building. These massive stones were built with a little bit of a tilt to withstand earthquakes and they are so tight next to each other that you can't even stick a piece of paper through it.


The elevation here was almost 13,000 feet. On this not so huge staircase I had to stop 3 times to catch my breath. Not to mention it was FREEZING.


We also visited Kenko (on left) which is a rock sanctuary where they made human sacrifices. These are the steps leading to the alter. They would kill them then keep them there to do the embalming because the solid rock was so cold. The bottom left is the fortress of Puca-Pucara, which we didn't stop to see, only drove past it. The top right is Tambomachay or Inca Bath. Since it has been discovered, they have noticed that it has run continuously at the same flow rate. It has never dried up nor rushed out. This just proves how advanced the Inca people were building these aqua duct systems.

Sacred Valley


On our third day, we did a Sacred Valley Tour. We loved Sacred Valley. The ruins that we saw just kept getting better and better leading up to the grand finale. Sacred Valley was just beautiful. Leaving Cusco, we went down the other side of the mountain and this was our view. The locals farm going up the hills and mountains and different crops only grow in certain areas during specific seasons.


We stopped at the Pisac market to do some shopping. This market is only open on Sundays. We were able to get a few things, but with only 1 hour we only saw 1/5th of the booths. It went on and on.

Pisac Ruins


These are the Pisac ruins. We toured with SAS Tours and what I liked about them is that they gave us facts. As we walked past different tour groups you always heard stories of the king and the servants and this was probably used for this and that. But it seemed like our tour guides just gave us facts and we could imagine the parts.


This is where the largest Incan cemetery known is. The ruins are on top of one hill, and the cemetery is behind it on the mountain. When people passed in the Inca days, they would bury them with their riches in this mountain. The large holes are where families are buried together. The dug outs are there from when thieves ransacked the burial sites and stole the gold and other valuables. They say 3,000 people were buried here. The view was gorgeous from the top of the ruins looking out at the Sacred valley.

Ollanytaytambo


The Sacred Valley tour included a stop at Ollantaytambo. The main ruins were on one mountain and looking out across the valley, were more ruins. The top right pic is across from the main ruins and that is where they stored their food. The location of it provides a perfect draft of wind to keep their food storage cool. Other ruins on that mountain stored tools and weapons. The valley of Ollantaytambo is still mostly intact. The water systems in use are the original systems built by the Inca people.


It was here that we learned how the Inca people moved the boulders of limestone. Our guide showed us where the quarry was (across the valley and behind the ruins) and the path they took to get the boulders to the top. Basically, the stone quarry was in a perfect 45 degree hill where they could roll the stones down on wooden logs rolling them to the river. Then they used some boulders to move the path of the river (behind the stones) and rolled the stones to the other side, then up the perfect incline of the mountain. The bottom left photo is the view of the ruins from the valley. The terraces here were amazing!


This was the last stop of the day for us. Our group continued on to see the Chinchero ruins. We were a little bummed because they are the ruins near the glaciers that never melt. But at the same time, those ruins are at 16,000 feet elevation. Here we are walking towards the temporary bus station. Is that a Tuk-Tuk?? Yup! Peru also had some of the biggest corn we have ever seen! They boil them and they can't even eat the kernels off the cob, the pick them off 1 by 1 to eat.

Machu Picchu


Originally, you could take a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu or from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. The flooding in January wiped away parts of both of those tracks so until those are rebuilt, they set up this temporary route. It included a bus from Ollantaytambo to a tiny town called Poroy that had a little pavilion with benches that we could sit on. Locals were there selling drinks and snacks. It was SOOOOOOO cold that night. I had to put every long sleeve shirt on that I had with me. We were pleasantly surprised how organized and efficient PeruRail was with re-routing EVERYONE. It was like the flooding never happened. It was a short train ride (1.5 hours) in the dark, then we finally arrived to our final destination: AQUAS CALIENTES. The town at the bottom of Machu Picchu, the closest town to the beautiful ruins. We got off the train and were guided to our hotel in Aquas where we had dinner, then went straight to bed to rest for the BIG DAY! We woke up at 4 the next morning, had breakfast at the hotel and went to stand in line for the 5:30 bus. We were SOOOOOOOOOOOOO excited as we waited. The anticipation was too much. It was pitch black and all we could see was this huge mountain right above us. Is that where it was? We had no clue! We finally got on the bus and rode the 30 minutes to the top. By then, it was getting lighter but we still couldn't see anything. ANXIETY!! If you arrive early enough, you can have your ticket stamped to climb Huayna Picchu (they limit it to 400 people/day). We wanted to hike it at the 10:00 slot, but they had already given out those 200 stamps, but we got the 8:00 stamp just in case we wanted to ditch the tour and go hike it (our tour went until 9). We entered and did a little hiking and then FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


THE MAIN EVENT. MACHU PICCHU ONE OF THE 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD AND OH HOW GLORIOUS IT IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Words can't even describe how amazing and beautiful it is. The entrance is off to the side and you have to hike up to the ruins. It's the perfect entrance because you catch a glimpse of it here and there then all of a sudden you're standing IN THE RUINS taking in the views. That's what makes it so breathtaking. It's not only the ruins, it's the fact that it's on top of a mountain overlooking the cloud forest (beginning of the Amazon) on one side,the best side mind you, and glacier mountains on the other. When I think about it, I think of the quote, "Life isn't about the number of breaths you take, it's about the moments that take your breath away." And that in a nutshell describes MACHU PICCU. There are no words, there are no pictures that do it justice. Even as I sit here and relive those moments, it still takes my breath away.


Scenes of Machu Picchu including the Temple of the Sun (top pic 2nd from right) and the view from the Sun Gate.

Machu Picchu


Our first few hours on the tour. Love this place.....


The dirt road leading up to Machu Picchu as seen from the Sun Gate. People who hike the 4 day Inca Trail come through the Sun Gate and hike into Machu Picchu as the Incan's did.


The back side of Machu Picchu. Terraces and drop offs.

Machu Picchu


Scenes of Elisa at Machu Picchu which included sitting on the terrace taking in the view, hiking the million steps, having a panic attack while climbing to the Inca bridge, and sunbathing while Joe hiked to the Sun Gate. It was nice because we were there all day. The crowds were there in the morning but as the day went on, the crowds thinned out leaving us pretty much alone as we weaved through the ruins. This is when the llama's came out to play!


Scenes of Joe at Machu Picchu. Joe was in heaven! He's a real outdoorsy hiking, mountain climbing kind of guy, so this was right up his alley! Unfortunately he did a lot of it on his own :) We started to hike up to the Sun Gate together, but I wanted to go back and explore the ruins (ended up sunbathing on a terrace cuz I couldn't stop looking at the view), so he continued on and eventually ran into _______ who was in our city tour group. They hung out together and took pictures of each other. Little did I know I should have increased our life insurance policy for this trip! Yes, that's Joe sitting on a ledge with thousands of feet between him and the next terrace. The top left pic shows how you can be hiking around the ruins and the stairs are actually drop off points of the mountain. Yikes!


The tale of the Inca bridge: Joe and I decided to hike up to the Inca bridge. We reached a flat area and there was a little hut with a ranger inside. We asked how far to the Inca bridge and he told us it was only 15 minutes but we had to sign our names in this book. Oh cool, they're keeping track of everyone that goes to see it. Well....kind of. As I started filling it out I realized we had to write our names, date and time we left for the bridge. That should have been my first clue. They were keeping track of everyone who came and went that way they knew if someone was missing so they can start looking for them. Well, I got about 2 minutes into it and had a complete panic attack. In fact, these 2 Asians came around the corner and were staring at me as they went by and one Asian slipped his foot off the edge! The trail was so narrow and it was all drop off. There was no railing of any sort. As you can see in the picture, the REALLY narrow areas had rope along the mountain you could hold onto. I demanded that Joe escort me back and he hiked the rest of the way. He took the most amazing video for me to watch, but wouldn't let me watch it until we were home and on my parents 60 inch tv. HOLY COW. I'm so glad I quit that trail! They only let you hike to the bridge. A few years ago someone tried to cross the bridge and died (duh) so the bridge is blocked off. But if you follow the green shrubbery on the vertical limestone, that's the trail. Joe informed that I wouldn't make a good Incan. Ya think?? So as I sat with the ranger waiting for Joe, the ranger asked if we had climbed Huayna Picchu. We wanted to but didn't get the stamp for the 10 am one and we were on tour so we didn't make it. "Good" he told me. What? Why? Because the hike to Huayna Picchu is like this, but vertical. WHAT THE??? I'm so glad we didn't go on that hike. I may have never made it down. I probably would have cried until they airlifted me out. Seriously!

Machu Picchu


Huayna Picchu. It's the tip of the tallest peak directly behind Machu Picchu. It was during our tour that our guide informed us that THAT was Huayna Picchu. It was at that point where I told Joe I didn't want to do it. He was ok with it because it takes several hours and we didn't want to waste our time there trying to hike to different places, although everyone who has hiked it says it's the best view of Machu Picchu. No thanks, I like Huayna Picchu IN my pictures.


My family made fun of me so bad for this! We were going through the ruins and we came to this ledge. We had to climb down the stairs that was the edge of a drop off to get the other area. Not me, I opted to jump the terraces. Lucky for me, they were small ones.

Machu Picchu


The town of Aquas Calientes. We loved this little town, it was quaint and romantic. We could hear the Urumbamba River rushing at night. It was here that I was daring enough to try ALPACA. It was different. It had the texture of pork with a little gamy taste to it. Another traditional dish is guinea pig, but I just didn't dare.


On the train heading back to Ollantaytambo. From there, they had a direct bus service straight to Cusco. We were exhausted and very satisfied with our day at Machu Picchu. It was getting dark on the ride back, but every once in a while we would see more ruins along the river.


Our new friends. We met this hilarious couple, George and Evelyn, on the train to Machu Picchu. They were sitting across from us. The 4 of us talked the entire way. It was so fun and we laughed so hard. We said our goodbyes once we arrived in Aquas but we accidentally bumped into them at the bottom of Machu Picchu. We went our separate ways with our own tour groups, but looked for them all day at the ruins. We were totally bummed on our train ride back, missing our new friends. As our trip came to a close, we were sunburned and sad to be leaving such a magical place, we heard our names called once we came out of security. THERE THEY WERE! We all hugged and exchanged emails and phone numbers. We have been dying to see our new friends from Houston and haven't been able to go visit them, but we will!

We adored our Machu Picchu experience. It truly has been one of our favorite trips. There is nothing in the world like it. We want to go back in 5-10 years. In some of the pictures (mainly the ones from Sun Gate) you can see that they are still excavating ruins below Machu Picchu. We would love to go back and see how much more there will be to see. Until then, farewell Machu Picchu. We love you.