Well, they say there is a first time for everything and we experienced our first flight cancellation in 3 years of constant travel this weekend. Fog laid on top of Beijing like a blanket and all flights were grounded Sunday evening. Jules and I had actually arrived on Thursday night so our 3 day weekend got extended to a 4 day and in all the hoopla I forgot to post a flashback last week. Whoops.
To make it up to you (myself?) here’s a double post from our time in Peru when we went to Machu Picchu. Peru is one of the few places in South America that I’d really like to go back to spend more time in. It’s definitely one of those places where you are drawn in and just want more and more. The people, the food, the land itself- beauty is everywhere you turn there.
And for the record that bizarro train ride back still reigns supreme as the most random thing we’ve ever experienced on the road.
We had a 4 day weekend, but we needed about 4 weeks…
Thursday, August 20, 2009
We had a four day weekend in Peru. We did and saw so much I'm going to have to break the story into two parts…and I'm still struggling with this stupid cold so I'm lucky to have gotten this far.
Thursday night we flew into the capital city of Lima. We got there around midnight our time and after the last flights out to Cusco. So, we literally went to the hotel, had a quick pisco sour and all went straight to bed. We had an early morning flight out the next morning and had to get up at an ungodly hour. We arrived at the airport to find our flight had been cancelled but instead of putting us in a later flight they rushed us onto the earlier one. It was a mad-dash of a morning but we arrived in Cusco earlier than expected which was nice.
Cusco is located at 10,800ft above sea level and you feel the effects of the altitude almost immediately. As we walked up the ramp at the airport to baggage claim it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. My breath was so labored by the time we got to the top I thought I was going to hyperventilate. It was nuts.
Our hotel was located on one of the many small cobblestone streets in the San Blas neighborhood. It was quaint, charming and best of all served coca tea and coca leaves in the lobby. The coca is supposed to help with the altitude but after a couple of cups we were all still feeling pretty loopy from our lack of oxygen. After checking in we all headed out for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
Jesus, our tour guide, picked us up after 1pm for our tour of Cusco city. Our reason for coming to Peru was to see Machu Picchu and although we had planned a couple other tours I did not expect to be so impressed. Cusco was lovely. The people, the architecture, the surrounding scenery, the colors…it was all inviting, vibrant and drenched in history and culture.
Our tour began with the main cathedral located in the Plaza de Armas. It was almost as beautiful inside as out, although they allowed no photos of the interior. Boo.
We then went to another church. Like most colonial churches in Cusco it was built on top of Inca temples but, thanks to an earthquake the temples were discovered and restored. It was almost hard for me to ignore the beautiful Spanish colonial courtyard in favor of the Inca architecture. Although ingeniously built the cold lines didn’t do much for me aesthetically.
After this we went out to Sacsahuamen. They believe this site links up to a few other sites that have been discovered. The archeologists are still hard at work here and some of the levels were closed off but it felt great to be outside in the fresh air. No matter how little oxygen it actually provided.
We saved the last sight for the next day since we were so exhausted and still all feeling a little out of whack. After resting for a few minutes back at the hotel we went back to the same restaurant from the afternoon for an easy meal before heading back to call it an early night.
We were off by 9 the next morning for our tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This valley runs from just outside Cusco to the last town before the Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu. It was a full day tour but we did so many different things we rarely spent any time in the van. At least it felt that way to us.
In a nutshell we…visited the highest point in Cusco where we saw three Inca fountains, stopped at a local craft market, visited a llama farm where we got to feed and pet the animals, went into a small town to shop, had a nice lunch outside at a local restaurant, visited another Inca site where we climbed 270 stairs to the top and felt the wind of 4 valleys meet, visited a chicharia and tried the local corn beer while dodging guinea pigs as they ran around the floor and finished the day with a stop in another town where we were taught how the locals clean, spin and dye wool...
We attempted to see some local dancing when we got back into Cusco but it was fairly cheesy so we snuck out during a break and all headed back to the Plaza del Armas for some dinner. We found a great restaurant with wonderful food and thanks to the altitude my two pisco sours had me feeling like I had four. It would have been a nice to explore the nightlife but, we had to get back after dinner because our driver was picking us up at 6:15am for our train to Machu Picchu.
…to be continued
Friday, August 21, 2009
6:15 Sunday morning and our very sweet driver, Mr. Edwin, was patiently waiting for us all to make it upstairs. The two small flights of stairs in our hotel up to the lobby literally seemed like a mountain to me each time I took them. Even as you feel you’re adjusting to the altitude you do something stupid like take a flight of stairs at a normal pace and find yourself at the top clutching your chest and screaming “I’m coming Elizabeth! I’m coming!”.
You have two choices of trains to Machu Picchu. One is the backpacker train and the other first class train is called the “Vistadome”, which alludes to its skylights in the cars. If you know me, you know I can smell a dirty hippy from at least a mile away so when discussing I was all for the first class train. And yes, I am well aware that backpackers and hippies are not always one in the same but I didn’t want to take my chances.
It turns out that the first class train offers little more than a small table in-between the seats and one pitiful excuse for a snack for the 3 hour ride. Although it is very warm in the day, the nights and morning are extremely cold, like just above freezing, so you can imagine my dismay to find that there was no heat on the train. I’m not sure what is “first class” about that but if they thought the thin little blanket made up for it they were mistaken. Needless to say I was miserably cold in my capri pants so after our table was cleared I laid my head down and napped for the majority of the ride.
When I awoke I found we had left the valley farmlands and arrived in the jungle. It was a lovely ride and thankfully the sun had come up and was slightly warming the train car. The train arrives in Agua Caliente, a small town below Machu Picchu. From there you take a 25 minute bus ride up, up and up the mountain. The views were breathtaking and when we spotted Machu Picchu for the first time I have to say my heart skipped a beat.
Visiting Machu Picchu was one of the places we wanted to see most in the world. A lost Incan city found high in the jungle and shrouded in mystic. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
Our guide, Franklin, met us as we stepped off the bus and after shedding some layers and slathering on some sunscreen we made our way to the site. Okay, after everyone else slathered on sunscreen. I was so desperate for some color I decided to forego the protection. Stupid? Yes, and I paid a dear price. The sunburn and subsequent peeling is bad enough but I will be fighting this ridiculous bib tan line for months to come.
Believed to have been built during the height of the Incan Empire in the early 15th century there are a lot of theories about the uses of the site. It seems the prevailing is that it was an estate of the then ruling Inca king. The site was largely unknown until an American historian, Hiram Bingham, was brought there by some locals in 1911.
Machu Picchu is one of those places where you cannot begin to understand its grandeur until you are standing there in front of it. The beauty of the city itself is nothing in comparison to its location...
We spent two hours with our guide and had another hour or so to enjoy the views ourselves before heading back down to Agua Caliente.
I don’t think any of us were looking forward to another three hour train ride back to Cusco. Of course this was because we had no idea what was in store for us. About halfway through the trip Julie was napping and out of nowhere this loud flute music begins to play. I look over and we’re all thinking “what is this?” and two seconds later this guy comes running out…
After he was done an announcement came on telling us that we were going to have a fashion show. Um, yeah, still no idea. The music then changed to loud techno and low and behold our attendant had taken her hair down, put on some lipstick and was cat-walking down the aisle in a sweater. They even had our male attendant modeling some of the local wool creations. They were both pretty funny strutting their stuff for the people they had just served drinks. The guy was the best though, when Julie reached out to feel the material of his sweater he leaned in, gave a bicep flex and said in a low, sultry voice “baby alpaca”. This is the term for the wool from the very first shearing of the animal- very soft and very pricey. Anyway, everyone was clapping, whistling and yelling for them…it was so strange but it did make the time go by quickly and was good for many, many laughs.
We all got freshened up and went out to dinner together for our last night in Cusco. Even with 4 days it didn’t seem enough for the trip. Peru is one of those places where you can’t help but be completely captivated with the beauty of the people, the culture and the country itself. It's one of those places where you can’t stop yourself from saying “I could so live here”.
We’ll be enjoying our last weekend of the round in Buenos Aires. We need to get in all the leather, steak, dulce de leche, and tango we can handle because in 6 short days we’re hopping on the plane bound for home!