Our 54 Hour Bus Ride to Colombia

Saturday September 14, 2013

Lima, Peru, Backpacking, South America

So you know how I was just talking a few days ago about how there was no way we could add Bolivia to our list because it was going to be hard enough squeezing three countries into our visit?  Well, make that two now.  We’ve decided to skip out on Ecuador since we feel that if we do both that and Colombia, we won’t really get the full experience of either country.  I don’t think either of us expected that we’d have spent over two weeks in Peru, but there was so much to see and so much to catch our interest that we couldn’t just whiz through it, only stopping in one or two places.  This is what we feel would happen if we tried to fill two countries into our last two weeks.  Sure, we could spend one day in about two different towns in each country, but that would be it.  Even from where we’re sitting in Mancora, going to Bogota is almost 800 miles just in travel as the crow flies.  Traveling there in a bus at speeds of 40 mph while you wind through mountains and treatcherous terrain, and it becomes a very long trip.  Another 300 miles from Bogota to where our plane departs in Medellin and I think it’s safe to say that just a couple of those days will be eaten up by travel.

So we’re leaving out Ecuador.  People just keep giving so much praise to Colombia that we want to be able to experience it just as much as we’ve done Peru.  Which, I should note, we could easily spend our next two weeks here and not get bored.  I am SO glad that we chose this country to visit.  It was really hard to say good-bye this morning, and if we hadn’t already purchased our forwarding bus tickets back in Lima, I probably would have been able to talk Matt into a few more days here.  But we had no other option than to leave at two o’clock that afternoon, so we made the most of what time we had left there.  Packing our bags was no easy feat, I swear they grow bigger each city we stop at.  Which I guess technically they are, since we seem to buy some kind of souvenier at each place we stop.  In Mancora, it was a blanket sized sarong that we’ll now be able to lay on beaches with, without the fear of dragging sand back to the boat since it will shake right off of it, unlike a towel.  After that was finished we paid our bill at the hostel and spent our remaining time laying on the beach and going out for one more lunch.  I am really, really going to miss this place.

enjoying a Cristal beer on the beach in Mancora Peru

lunch in Mancora Peru

I think I’m going to miss you most, $4 meal (including beer).

 

Having just a little bit of Peruvian money left as we arrived at the bus station, we filled our backpacks with a few more snacks and drinks for the ride.  When our bus finally pulled into the station an hour and a half late, it was not at all what we were expecting.  For a direct ride that was going to take over 2 days, we thought it might be more luxurious than the normal buses we were riding, not that they had been at all bad, but come on.  2 straight days on a bus?  It better be a pretty frickin comfortable ride.  But this was not the double decker bus we were used to.  This was a bottom of the line bus.

When we approached our seats, we found a younger Latin girl already in it.  We pointed to the seat numbers on the bus and then at the matching numbers on our tickets, and waited while she moved 50 different pieces of belongings to the open seats on the other side of the aisle, including a fuzzy blanket that had me spending the first hour of our ride pulling pink colored fuzzies off my clothes.  It also turns out that our new seats disrupted a conversation with the people sitting in front of us that she had been talking too.  No matter to her, she just continued the conversation over us at a louder volume.  Yes, I know it’s part of the Latin culture to be loud and talkative, but if there’s one thing that can instantly get on my nerves, it’s loud or high pitched noises.  It’s why I tend to avoid crowds in general. She, happened to be both.

A few hours later my stomach began to growl and I was about to pull out one of my snacks except that I expected dinner to be served at any moment.  It was normally served around 6 pm, and I was getting extremely excited to have a hot meal and a cold drink placed in front of me.  Except it never came!  Even though we were using the same bus line we had been since we’d gotten to Peru, this particular class of bus did not serve food either.  It was looking like it was going to be a very long 2 days.  As we pulled into customs and immigration that evening to check out of Peru and into Ecuador, there was a quick run to the tienda across the street for some Doritos and Coke.  Just when we had been starting to eat healthier meals, we were thrown back into old habits of chips and pop for dinner.

The next morning around 10:30 we made a stop in a large town in Ecuador called Quito to unload passengers and take on some new ones.  I was tempted to run into the streets to see what kind of street vendor food I could pick up, but I had no idea how much time we were stopped for.  When we were picked up in Mancora, I don’t think the process took more than five minutes.  I decided not to get off.  Getting on though, was another young gringo couple close to our age.  I was elated when I found out they held the seats right next to us.  Finally, someone we could talk to.  They went through the same process we did of having to kick out the same Latina girl and also subsequently spent the next hour picking pink fuzzies from their clothes.  We found out the name of our new friends were Ardun and Jen, and they hailed from Australia.

As our bus set off and bumped along again, we found out that just like Hannah and Kyle, they’re taking a few months to take on South and Central America.  Except unlike our other friends, their lives basically revolve around traveling.  A few years ago, they actually road tripped across the United States by living in a Dodge Ram camper and even wrote a book about it called Boon Dockers.  The four of us got along great, and during our one stop of the day for lunch, we had a great time recounting our stories from our South American travels so far.  Jen and I also united while, during our check in to Colombia that night, we tried to stall the bus driver from leaving as the guys ran down to a street vendor to grab us all dinner.  For a moment there, we thought the four of us were going to be stranded on the side of the road.

Jen & Ardun Ward

 (Photo courtesy of Jen & Ardun Ward)

 

Even though there were the occasional leg cramps and having to hunt down toilet paper since the bus didn’t supply any, the trip was looking up.  We’d learned to stash food when we could, they finally added subtitles to the movies, and we had some great and interesting people to talk to.  I was feeling quite content when my eyes began drooping just after 10 and and settled in for another night’s sleep.  I didn’t find it too unusual, when just after midnight, the bus rolled to a stop.  I figured it was a requested bathroom or food stop since we were in front of a gas station.  One of the stewards walked down the aisle to give a quick speech, and people began floating on and off the bus, and smiling and laughing as they talked to each other.  Pretty routine I figured, and tried to go back to bed.

The bright lights and talking had woken Jen and Arudun up though, and I overheard a conversation she started with the bilingual guy behind her, trying to get more information of what was going on.  ”Oh nothing”, he replied, “We’re all fine, it’s nothing”.  ”But I just heard the steward say ‘peligro’”, she countered, “That’s the word for danger”.  That’s when the guy broke down told her what was really going on.  There were reports of guerrillas that had stopped and robbed three buses ahead of us, and we could be next in line.  We were stopping  at this gas station to take on military protection.  It was at that time that we all looked forward to see one of the military men boarding, a loaded AK 47 in his hand.

Through more persuading, we learned that the intended plan was to bring three military men on board with us.  Two would board the bus, standing at the front and the back, and another would be stowed below with our luggage.  Matt and I looked at each other in utter shock.  Our thoughts turned to everything we had on us.  Two cameras, two computers, two e-readers, and $600 in cash.  We started scanning the seats for any crevices we thought we might be able to hide our belongings in, but we knew the search was fruitless.  If we were stopped, the guerrillas would find it.  We settled on stuffing a good portion of the cash in the seat back, while I tucked $50 into my underwear.  We’d heard that if stopped, they line all passengers up next to the bus and make you empty your pockets, plus take off your shoes and socks.  I couldn’t think of any other place that hiding money might be safe.

As we started moving again, my breaths were short and shallow.  It was one of those things that I had a feeling deep down inside that everything would be fine, but the armed guard next to me reminded me that it might not.  I wasn’t worried for my safety, apparently after they ransack the bus they send you back on your way, just minus all your belongings.  But loosing all our belongings would still be a pretty big blow to us.  All the curtains were pulled shut inside the bus and every light was turned off except a few red bulbs running along the aisle.  Most people took the cue of what a sobering situation it was and kept quiet.  Not the Latina girl that had been seat hopping.  She made it a point to stand in the aisle in her glittery tank top, loudly talking with the person in the seat behind her and making sure the good looking military guy could see her every time she tossed her hair back and laughed.  I kind of wanted to smack her.

An hour later we rolled again to a stop.  We had made it out of the danger zone unscathed.  The military men were unloaded and we continued on our way once more.  I know part of me still should have been a little scared and a little alert, but by this point, I was just exhausted.  Young Latina girl had finally quieted herself, and I was ready for sleep.

The next morning we said goodbye to Ardun and Jen as they departed the bus in Cali, and we still had a few hours left until Bogota.  By now the bus was nearly empty and we were able to space ourselves out a bit more as well.  Loud Latina girl was gone, also having got off in Cali, and I was able to spend the remaining hours of the afternoon sleeping in something other than the fetal position, and getting some work done on my computer.  We’d covered a lot of miles, skipped one country, and almost had all our belongings stolen, but 54 hours after first boarding our bus, we were ready to explore Colombia.  Once we get to our hostel, eat, shower, and sleep.

 

 

You Might Also Like:

Everybody’s Gone Surfin’. Surfin’ P-E-R-U

Wednesday September 11, 2013

9.11.13

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Castellanos

Remember when I mentioned before that all great plans normally start over a drink?  Or four?  That’s how we woke up this morning with plans to go surfing in the Pacific after hearing last night that Kyle and Hannah had intentions of going.  It might not be Californi-a, and there may not be any Beach Boys hanging around, but there was water and a few crashing waves, and we were going to take advantage of it.

Forget the fact that neither Matt or I had had ever taking a surfing lesson before, or had never ever sat on a surf before.  A two hour rental of a board was only $3.50, so how can you not sign up for some time on the water at that price?  Being reminded of the fact that I am no longer 22 years old, I sat at one of the picnic tables trying to stifle my headache while eating some yogurt and granola while I waited for everyone else to show up. In addition to our group of four, we were also having a new guy, Nicolas, who I’d never met before but made friends with Kyle at the hostel, join us.

Once we all gathered, it was down to the beach where we each handed over 10 soles and got a surf board in return.  We were about to head down to the water which I already knew was, to me, arctic cold.  I was not looking forward to getting in.  Thankfully we were called back by the shop owner to grab wetsuits that were hanging on the wall.  We hadn’t even known they were included in the rental.  Watching everyone try to shimmy into theirs was almost worth the cost of the rental itself.  Nicolas had one that was shredded throughout, giving him the appearance of a surfing villain, and Kyle had to struggle into one that had no zipper, basically turning himself into a contortionist just to get it on.

surf boards at Loki del Mar

Matt & Jessica in wetsuits

Kyle with a nip slip

 Dragging our boards out in front of the one crest on the beach,  all of us were given a quick lesson by Kyle who had been on a surf board once before.  Most of us weren’t paying much attention (possibly Matt and I), but instead kept making random quotes from the movie ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’.  ”The less you do, the more you do.  Let’s see you pop up.  Do less, try it again.  You’re doing too much, do less.  Remember, don’t do anything.  Well, you gotta do more than that, cause now you’re just laying.”, referring to a scene where Paul Rudd’s character is trying to teach Jason Segel’s character to surf with the most illogical and unhelpful instructions ever.  Five minutes of fooling around like this, and then we were ready for the water.

surf lessons from Kyle

beach in Mancora Peru

Pushing our boards out into the water, we joined the 20 other people out already that morning, all trying to catch waves in the one area that the rolled through.  The one area that was shallow and had sharp jagged coral that was exposed at low tide.  Completely ready to ‘do more by doing less’, I paddled out to where the waves seem to be breaking, not even really sure what to do once I got there.  The paddle in itself was a little tiring, so as I finally approached the cresting waves where the much more educated surfers were riding them back to shore, I had no problem sitting a few of them out while I took a breather.

Then, I was ready for some giants.  But as soon as I was theoretically ready to ride the waves, they all disappeared.  The current however, was still going strong.  Most of the next hour was spent floating towards shore in calm and flat seas, and then paddling back out to deeper water where I hoped for some rollers to come in.  My patience did pay off as a few waves did start building awhile later, but then I ran in to the fact that everyone out there was trying to catch the same wave.  Trying to space yourself out from the others was half the work and the few times I did feel ready to get up, I was almost diving out of the way of people who had caught the wave before me and were careening right at me.  Overall I was able to push myself up on my knees twice, but I never rode any giants.

Finally succumbing to the cold and the exhaustion, I let myself float back to the beach on the current and tried to ride the last little breaking wave that builds up just before shore.  It was a little more than I was expecting and the force threw me from my board as I tumbled a few times before resurfacing again.  Luckily, the only thing hurt was my pride, and anyone within eye shot didn’t let on that they had seen my lack of grace.  Not long after, everyone else joined me on the sand as we peel off our wet suits and tried to fight fatigue.  A lunch of ceviche and Lomo Saltada were also quickly devoured since I think we had all just used up the calories we’re used to exerting in a day, on two hours out in the water.

I thought the rest of the day would be full of lounging and relaxing, but Loki had other ideas for us.  While we were all lounging by the pool and enjoying a mid-afternoon happy hour beer, one of the staff members came to drag us all out to participate in yoga.  Surprisingly, Matt did not persist.  This may have been because the girl in front of him was wearing a short skirt while practicing her downward facing dog.

yoga at loki

 Photo courtesy of Loki del Mar.

There were two more things on our list to do that night.  We all wanted to catch a sunset out on the beach (yes, even after watching them from the boat every night for how long now?, you still don’t get sick of it dipping behind the horizon), and also watching a little show from Kyle.  Did we forget to mention that he’s a fire poi performer?  This is where little balls of fire sitting at the bottom of a chain are swung around in a variety of rhythmical and geometrical patterns.  Kind of like the little girls in gymnastics, but instead of a pretty little ribbon fluttering around them it’s two balls of fire instead.  We were very intrigued.

The sunset itself was magnificent.  We all grabbed a cold beer from a street vendor and made our way to a quiet patch of sand as we watched the determined and hardcore surfers catching waves in the last rays of the sun.  Couples strode with arms wrapped around each other, and horses gently trotted through the damp sand on the beach.  This is just one more place we have come across that is literally picture perfect.

horses on beach, Mancora Peru

surfers at sunset, Mancora Peru

Kyle taking photos, Mancora Peru

our group on the beach, Mancora Peru

no camping sign on beach, Mancora Peru

 When the sky had just about grown dark, it was time for our show to begin.  As we circled around him, Kyle ignited his balls of fire, and as some music played in the background, we all stared with amazement as he began swinging them through the air, creating lasting trails of light as they twisted and dipped.  It was such a fun thing to see, and even members of the neighboring hotel were inching toward the beach to try and catch glimpses.  The only unfortunate part of the whole thing was that because he didn’t have the proper fuel with him and was forced to use basically a lamp oil instead, the flames did not want to stay blazing for more than a minute at a time.  Over and over he’d have to stop to relight them and continue the show.  It was still well worth it though, and we’ll make sure to force a second performance out of him when we drop in on them in London next year while we’re (hopefully) doing some land travels through Europe.

Kyle doing fire poi, Mancora Peru

 With such a full day that we’ve packed in, I guess there’s nothing left to do but go back to the hostel and watch the nightly ritual of the blood bombs, drinking for your country where scores are tallied on a board based on how many drinks each country buys.  Sadly, I don’t think the United States will be represented tonight.

blood bombs, Loki del Mar, Mancora Peru

You Might Also Like:

If you Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em: Beer Pong at Loki del Mar

Tuesday September 10, 2013

beer pong, Loki del Mar, Mancora

Today we finally broke the curse of the ‘Outsiders as Backpackers’.  There are two ways we found to penetrate this curse if you are a 31 year old married backpacking couple.  One of them is this new fangeled concepts called ‘Joining in on activities’.  I know, I know, it almost sounds too extreme to attempt, but trust me, it works.  The other, is to find another backpacking couple.  Age or marital status doesn’t matter as much here, but it seems that any couples that have put more than a year into their relationship kind of have the cruiser mentality of reaching out to ‘people of their kind’.

One group of friends I was introduced to were a younger Dutch group (plus one Californian).  Matt and I had spent the day moving ourselves back and forth between the beach and the pool at our hostel.  At the pool, on one of the occasions that we were trying to find comfortable positions in the lounge chairs that have long ago stopped lounging and now just lie flat, I watched a group of about four people playing volleyball in the pool.  As the day wore on I could no longer find a comfortable position in the chair, and my now bright red bum needed a little break from the sun that I had been forcing introductions with since I bought my new suit yesterday.  When a fifth person joined their game and now made the teams uneven, I marched over and asked if I could join.  And guess what?, they said yes!  Man, I should have tried this thing of asking to join activities for years now instead of just sending ESP signals and waiting to be invited.

The game was quite entertaining and I found out that I can serve very well, but I’m as equally poor at trying to return a serve.  Or really, do anything with a ball that’s flying in my direction.  But the points I was able to earn while serving kind of evened me out, and my teammates decided I was worthy of keeping around.  Near the end though, the game wasn’t even concentrated on so much as scoring points as it was about staying in the sun.  For as hot as it is during the day, this place can get damn cold at night and members of both teams would slink toward the well lit side of the pool as the sun dropped below the palm trees and cast shadows on the other half.  Get that ball that’s headed toward the dark side of the pool?  I don’t think so, I’m staying in the sun.

Later that night after showering up and coming back out to the bar for dinner, we ran into the aforementioned couple.  Hannah and Kyle are from London and had just started a six month backpacking trip across South and Central America.  Like literally just started.  We recognized them from our bus ride up from Lima, where they had just gotten off a plane two days earlier.  We had a great time sitting by the bar and talking with them, us finding out where they were headed, and then finding out where we had already been.  Plus talking to people with British accents?  Those are just fun.  Every time Hannah would say something like, “Excuse me a moment, I have to go wee”, I would just about double over because it was both hilarious and adorably cute at the same time.

night shot of pool at Loki del Mar Mancora

night shot of bar, Loki del Mar, Mancora

Hannah and Kyle

 As we sat around one of the benches, talking and exchanging information, one of the Loki staff members came up to ask if we were participating in beer pong that night.  Yup, this was one of those hostels that had an activity going each night, and they were usually centered around drinking.  After having kept to ourselves every night of this trip so far, I blurted out “YES!!” before Matt ever had the opportunity to stop me.  Hannah and Kyle also agreed to play, I think all four of us expecting that we would be pitted against each other.  Which would have been nice since I don’t think any of us has played in years.  As far as Matt’s recollection goes, he’s never played.  I had to remind him that, yes, we’d actually played a number of times in his friend Kevin’s basement, but he probably doesn’t remember because the game of flippy cup which we eventually evolved to, was much more fun.  Which coincidentally,  also happened to be the game of choice at Loki last night.

Since all of us were no longer familiar on the rules, we went to the rule board to check it out.  For the laid back atmosphere this place administers, their rule board looked as technical as a rocket launch.

beer pong rules Loki del Mar Mancora

 Did you catch any of that?

 

There were so many groups of people playing that night, that only a certain number of tables could be set up and others would have to wait for one to become available before having the chance to play.  We took advantage of the little extra time on our hands and went to spy on my volleyball teammates, Wouter and Mark, who were busy drinking their defeat when we arrived.  It was still enough to pick up a few tips though, before we were doomed to our own table to begin.

Mark and Wouter at beer pong

 Luckily for us, our crazy French opponent in his crazy patterned pants, was very nice and more than willing to explain any rules that we were unsure of before we began.  They weren’t out to wipe the floor with our asses, they were just looking to have a good time.  Phew.  I started to relax a little bit.  That was, until Matt was pouring and racking up our drinks and I realized these were not the miniature sips of beer I was allotted as a dainty little girl back in our friends basement.  Between the six glasses in front of us, we had to empty two of the nearly liter sized bottles in to them.

Matt racking for beer pong, Loki del Mar, Mancora

 The game went much more quickly than I thought.  But that might have been because as soon as our opponents went to toss, they got their first ball in and I was sent to chug (and I mean really chug) about five ounces of beer as quickly as possible.  That will give you a good little buzz right there.  I remember tossing our ball and getting about two into their cups, but mostly I just remember chugging beer, and before I knew it, the game was over.  We had lost.  Oh well, at least we could still get new beers at the 2 for 1 game price.  After our defeat, we went to see how Hannah and Kyle were holding up.

Hannah and Kyle playing beer pong, Loki del Mar, Mancora

 Chug Hannah, chug!

 

Their game lasted slightly longer than ours, but they were soon out as well.  Making the rounds, I went to check back on other members from my volleyball team.

Gioia and Joss at beer pong

Wouter and Mark watch as Gioia and Joss play.

Mark, Jessica, Wouter at beer pong

 

And then to watch as one of our dorm mates, Renald, advanced to the next round.

Renald playing beer pong

It was kind of strange how we woke up that morning not really knowing a single soul at the hostel, and by 10 o’clock that night I was out fraternizing with half the people at the bar.  Talking to everyone I’d met earlier in the day, and also walking up to random people that I’d never even looked at before, just to see how their night was going.  Everyone was friendly and outgoing and more than willing to include us ‘old people’ in their conversations.  Maybe backpackers are kind of like cruisers after all, once you finally get the courage to go up and say hello.  Or, maybe you just need to ingest lots of beer.  That helps too.

hanging out in a private room in Loki del Mar

 

You Might Also Like:

Chillin’ at Loki and Relaxin’ all Cool

Monday September 9, 2013

3rd floor view, Loki del Mar

I can’t believe I’m saying this after all the whining and complaining I did back in June that ‘All these islands are starting to look the same, I just want to get to a big city’, I was so happy to come across a beach again.  Right now we are settled in the little town of Mancora, Peru, up on Northwest side, just under Ecuador.  I think we’re both ready to take a little time off from strutting through historic towns to kick back and relax for a few days with our toes in the sand and a cold beer in our hands.  Matt especially, who’s tensions seemed to be running a little high after being cooped up in a bus for another 17 hours.  I think these continuous rides are starting to take a toll on him.  As we were exiting the bus today and waiting for our luggage to be unloaded, dozens of tuk tuk drivers would hound you for a fare, not even giving you room to breath.  Matt may have had a little outburst at them while simultaneously yelling “JESSICA!!” to summon me to his side, which left the drivers laughing at his expense.  Poor guy needs some ceviche and a beer, stat.

We found the only driver out on the side that wasn’t bothering us, and gave him our business.  Our hostel, Loki del Mar, was less than a half mile up the road and we realized we could have walked it ourselves.  Oh well.  Getting ourselves checked in, we once again realized that this looked like a party hostel with a very young crowd.  And why wouldn’t it be?  It has it’s own slice of ocean front property, a swimming pool, cabanas, a bar, and dorm rooms for $8/night.  Yes, this place looked to be thriving on college kids out for holiday.  While making conversation with the girl behind the desk, we mentioned how the two of us stood out as much older than everyone else.

“How old are you two?”

“31″

“Yeah, you’re much older than everyone here.  I’m only 27, and usually I feel like the old one.”

“Oh.  Awesome.”

 

Chucking our bags in our dorm room, we set out about town to find me a new swimsuit.  You know, the kinds that are prominent in Brazil and Colombia, and cover more in the front than they do in the back?  I kinda think I need one of those.   Literally hours were wasted as I tried on suit after suit since this is the one place in Peru we’ve been to where no one speaks English and it was hard to get across the T style vs the V style I was looking for.  In the end I decided on one set of bottoms from a higher class swimsuit shop, and then a top and bottom (interchangeable with the other bottoms) from a cheap street vendor.

It’s also worth mentioning that for lunch we finally tried one of those Peruvian set menus where you get a drink, appetizer, and entree, for some seriously low prices.  It had taken us this long to research the items that were constantly showing on these menus and realizing that they were things we actually wanted to eat.  You mean that ‘Lomo Saltado’ that I’d been seeing everywhere pretty much translates to ‘Steak stir-fry’?  One of those with a juice and and appetizer of ceviche for just over $3?  I was ready to set down roots.

After lunch it was time to head to the beach in my new suit and tan my pasty white bum.  We found a vendor selling liter bottles of beer for $2, and plopped down in the sand to catch the last few hours of afternoon sun.  I have to say, I think I’m gonna like it here.

hammocks and pool, Loki del Mar, Mancora Peru

 

While I was down here trying to take a photo to get a vibe of the place, one of the guys turns at me and goes

“Can you take our picture?”

“Sure.”

“Are you going to put that up on Facebook?”

“Yeah, … I guess I can.”

“Cool, see ya later!”

No name, no email address, nothing.  I ended up posting it to Loki’s Facebook page, just so I could say I held up my part of the deal.  Good luck finding it guy…

hammocks, Loki del Mar, Mancora Peru

 

You Might Also Like:

What You Do on your Second Visit to Lima

Sunday September 8, 2013

9.8.13 (2)

I wish I had more fun stories to tell you from the half day we spent in Cusco after getting dropped backed off there after our visit to Puno, but there are none.  It turns out that when you have 30 lb backpacks strapped to you all day because there’s no place to leave them, you don’t go very far.  We didn’t see much more than the inside of McDonald’s for the better part of our time there.  Then it was off to catch yet another bus to bring us back to Lima in the span of 22 hours.  Luckily this bus held only VIP seats where they reclined 20 degrees more than the other ones we were used to, and there was a handy little screen with movies and music built right into the seat in front of me.  There were two things I learned on this bus ride.  The views from Cusco to Lima are amazing, and sunsets over mountains, even trough a bus window, can still make a heart swell.  The other thing I learned is that there is no parental guidance system in the movies you get to watch on your own portable player, so little kids are free to watch the full frontal nudity shown at the beginning of ‘Flight’.

Once we got to Lima with 24 hours on our hands before leaving again, we just did lots of walking.  Trying to see places we hadn’t before, and re-enjoying the places we like from the first time.  Here’s a quick rundown on our second visit to Lima.

 

  • You try to enjoy a nice lunch of leftover Pizza Hut while sitting in the San Martin Plaza when you are greeted with a sight you never want to see again in your life, especially while eating.  Just as you’re digging into a slice of your supreme, a homeless woman wearing only a shirt, but no pants or underwear, wanders right up to your face and ask you for money.  You’re sitting down, she’s standing up.  Parts that should never bee seen by mankind are now hovering mere inches from your food.  Shooing her away you look back at your pizza and decide that, yes, it’s still worth eating.

 

  • After you’ve finished eating, you take to the pedestrian mall where you see this homeless/pantless woman ambling around a few hundred feet from you.  It turns into a game where you try to guess the facial expressions from other people that notice her for the first time.  Peruvians, seem pretty used to this behavior.  Gringos, lots of stealthy pointing and hands covering slack jawed mouths.

San Martin Plaza Lima (1)

San Martin Plaza Lima (2)

San Martin Plaza Lima (3)

  • Wandering the streets you know that it’s Sunday and there has to be some kind of parade going on somewhere.  Come on, these people celebrate everything.  Sure enough you randomly stumble upon one and watch the people in a variety of costumes pass by, even though you know the meaning or significance of none of them.

parade in Lima (1)

parade in Lima (2)

parade in Lima (3)

parade in Lima (4)

parade in Lima (5)

parade in Lima (6)

  •  Wanting to see the parade from the beginning, you squeeze through all the people watching on the street and make way for where the parade is heading, the Plaza de Armas.  From here you join hundreds more people, making it much harder to see the parade you have already been watching.  Crouching down, you find that if you basically sit at everyone else’s feet, you can find a spot up front.

parade in Lima (7)

parade in Lima (8)

parade in Lima (9)

parade in Lima (10)

  • You try to unsuspectingly sneak up behind a little girl that’s watching the parade on her dad’s shoulder’s and snap a photo of her because she is just too darn cute,  while pretending that you’re actually trying to catch the action of the parade over her dad’s shoulders.  All lies!

little girl watching parade in Lima

  • While doing some good people watching in the Plaza de Armas, you are approached by a school girl and her friend wielding a video camera, and she asks you questions about your feelings on Peru as you stumble through answers on such questions as ‘What is your favorite Peruvian food?’ and ‘What don’t you like about the country?’.

people watching in Plaza de Armas, Lima

  • After leaving the Plaza de Armas, you realize to took no photos of the fountain or building facades, and remind yourself to scan through photos of your previous visit there so you can get at least one up on the blog.  I’m sure people would like to see it.

 

  • You come up to yet another church, and your spouse asks you why you take so many photos of seemingly insignificant things, yet you won’t break out your camera for this.  Exasperated, you reply that you already have dozens of photos from churches in Lima, and you don’t need another one.  Yet you still pull out your camera, snap a shot, and put it up on your blog because, well, now you have a photo of it.

another church in Lima

random building in Lima

(I actually found this building next to the church much more interesting)

 

 

 

You Might Also Like:

The Floating Islands of Uros, Lake Titicaca

Thursday September 5, 2013

reed boats Lake Titicaca

Does anyone remember back to their 6th or 7th grade geography lessons where you first started learning about countries other than your own?  And in there you would be introduced to funny sounding places like Zimbabwe or Uranus (ok, so that was more of a science lesson) or best of all, Lake Titicaca.  A mix of English and Spanish naughty words that you’d run home and repeat in front of your parents because you couldn’t get in trouble if you were only echoing the name of what you learned in class.  Something everyone would snicker at during the lesson and your teacher would stand up a little bit straighter themselves, and remind you to act like adults?  Yes, it was fun for us all, and I’m sure I’d be able to keep just as straight of a face during a lesson of it today as when I was 13 years old.  To give a quick history lesson though, the name itself is derived from Titi, an Aymara mountain cat, and the Quechua word caca, meaning rock.  This refers to the sacred rock on Isla del Sol which was worshipped by the Pre-Inca people on that island.

We had been warned not to come here.  Not to Lake Titicaca necessarily, that’s supposed to be beautiful.  No, we warned not to come to Puno Peru.  That it’s dirty and desolate and not worth seeing.  Our friends that had given us this information were not wrong.  They said, “Yes, visit Lake Titicaca, but be sure to see it from the Bolivian side, that’s the only part worth seeing”.  This could not work in our favor for two reasons.  The first is that we’re running on a four week schedule and already trying to cram three countries into that (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), and a fourth would be just asking a little too much.  The other is, and thank goodness I was so into reading Bumfuzzle’s adventures or I may not have known, that Americans and Americans only must procure a Visa to get into Boliva at the cost of $135 per person.  We’re still on a relatively tight budget with our land traveling, and that would have come close to breaking it.  Add in the extra bus rides, the blah blah blah.  It just wouldn’t have worked out.

But we couldn’t not go.  It would be like road tripping through Israel (as so many of us do) and coming within 30 miles of the Dead Sea but saying, “Meh.  Maybe I’ll catch it on the next time around”.  You can’t do that.  It’s something you must see, even if it’s just for the bragging right’s alone.  Plus the bus company happened to be running a special between Cusco and Puno, and that just sealed the deal.  We tried to look on the positive side of things and say ‘It can’t really be that bad, right?’ as we waited at the terminal for yet another overnight bus.  2 nights without hostels = bus tickets paid.

We should have known right away that things wouldn’t be as great as we hoped when, while sitting in the bus terminal with another set of backpackers, we all watched the local news which was showing footage of Puno from a few days earlier where the lake had frozen.  Yes.  It had gotten so cold there that the shores on this massive body of water had turned to ice.  Our groups looked at each other with shock, each of us probably wondering if our tickets were refundable.  After we had boarded the bus and were dropped off at our destination at 4:30 am we found the conditions were fortunately not quite as cold as forecast, but I was ready to check into the hostel that I had found online which advertised 24 hour reception and no check-in time.  Hooray, there might be a warm bed waiting for me soon!  We’re used to the hostels which proclaim they’re within one or two blocks of the city center to be relatively nice and in upstanding neighborhoods.  This one was not.  Our taxi sped away as we stood on a pitch black street, excitedly ringing the buzzer while we listened to what sounded like shotguns echoing just a few streets away.  It felt like forever before anyone finally came to the door.  Paying just a few dollars extra we booked a private room, and just as the sky was beginning to light we were ushered to our room which had no heat and I passed out under the covers while wearing three layers of clothes and still shivering.

Our next bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until the following night, so we spent our first day in Puno just roaming down the streets to see what we could find.  It definitely was not a classy town, and we couldn’t find much to occupy our time outside.  The Plaza de Armas was largely undesirable and there were no good spots to see the lake within walking distance.  One of the only good things to come of the day is that I found a woman selling knit goods, and Matt let me buy a llama skirt.  I really have no idea where my recent obsession for these items has come from, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the Disney flick ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’, which of course takes place in Peru.  Haven’t seen it yet?  I suggest you give it a watch.  Just as funny for adults as it is for kids.  The other thing is that we found a large shopping center with a food court, and in that food court was a Chinese restaurant that offered orange chicken.  We have not been able to find that in any of the million chaufas around.  Leftovers were brought back to our room where we enjoyed them while watching a movie on my laptop while lying in bed.  It’s the simple things in life….

Ok, now on to the reason we came.  One of the draws of Lake Titicaca is that it is the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,500 ft above sea level.  Many of the tourist visiting the lake will take ferrys to some of the nearby islands to get a feel for the local culture that has been developing here for thousands of years where the inhabitants have been worshiping the lake’s mystical powers since Pre-Inca times.  The best place to get a feel for these cultures are Isla del Sol (where the scared rock is, on the Bolivian side) or Taquile on the Peruvian side.  We were going to neither.  Our visit was going to be to the floating reed city of Uros.  Partially because a floating reed city sounded pretty cool, and partially because we didn’t get up early enough to make the 30 mile journey by water to Taquile.  We’d heard that Uros can be a little less than authentic and very heavy on tourism, but again, this trip was soley for bragging rights.  Boarding a ferry with about six other tourist and a few locals, we were off to the floating city.

ferry in Puno Peru

Looking back to Puno

Peruvian woman on ferry

 As we traveled through the narrow channel and the reeds, the water suddenly opened up and we were in a bay where the town, the boats, everything, was made from reeds.  One could only stand there awed and confounded as you wonder how this is done.  From their homes to their transportation, to the ground beneath their feet, everything was made from this material.  Having our sturdy fiberglass ship pull up alongside of one of these little floating islands, you step off and probe the ground with your feet for any secrets it might hold on how this is possible.  The pondering though, is unnecessary.   As soon as every traveler was on floating ground, we were told to gather in a circle for an introduction to the history of Lake Titicaca and the floating Islas de Los Uros.  It was a good thing that we had read up on our guidebook because the whole speech was in Spanish without any kind of interpreter.  Also, luckily for us, there were many visuals where on a much smaller scale, it was shown to us how these little islands were put together.  Since I’m sure I can’t give a good technical explanation of it, especially since it was in my second language that I haven’t quite learned yet, here’s a little excerpt from Wikipedia:

“The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months; this is what makes it exciting for tourists when walking on the island. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years.

Each step on an island sinks about 2-4″ depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As the reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added to it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there are so infiltrated with tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island. Tourism provides financial opportunities for the natives, while simultaneously challenging their traditional lifestyle.”

introduction to Los Uros

reed mountain cat Los Uros

 Following the introduction to the islands, we were broken into smaller groups of 1-2 people where one of the women who resides on that particular island shows you around and answers questions.  Thankfully ours spoke English, so we were able to follow along as she showed us the hut that her family lived in, the one bed they all shared, and the two sets of clothing she owned for different occasions.  While walking past her home, she also introduced us to their pet eagle, who looked like it was eyeing Matt up and down for lunch.  When she finished talking about her day to day life, she led us to a small area where a blanket and table were sprawled out, showcasing items for sale that her or her husband had made.

This was the tough part of the tour.  How do you tell someone who’s basically living off the proceeds from tourism that, not only do you live on a boat and don’t currently have the extra space or a need for a baby mobile made with reed canoes (cutest thing ever, when I have a baby I’m going to come back here just to buy one), or that you’re living out of a backpack at the moment which is already overstuffed with the wheel of cheese you bought in Cusco and there is no room for anything new?  The answer?  You can’t tell them no.  You would just feel like the biggest jerk ever.  Matt eyed all the goods in front of him and took a fancy to a textile that showed the history of the island.  Our guide told us that it had taken her 30 days to make, and knowing that we could easily fold it down and hopefully hang it in a future home, we gave her $30 USD for it and wished her well as we rejoined the group for a ride in one of the fancy ‘Mercedes’ reed boats to the capital city.  As we pushed off, the women of the island gathered together to sing us a native song as we departed.  It was all for tourism, I know, but still kind of nice to enjoy.

Matt & an eagle on Los Uros

Uros native selling goods

fishing pond in Los Uros Lake Titicaca

reed boat, Los Uros, Lake Titicaca

Los Uros native singing us goodbye

 The capital city, we were told, was a place for the locals to join for festivities and parties, although to me it just felt like one large tourist trap on a floating piece of land.  The only thing it consisted of were stalls filled with more goods for sale, exactly like the ones we had just left, and restaurants where you could purchase the same kind of food you’d find on the streets of Puno.  There were no more stories or explanations of the culture, just ‘Please spend the rest of your money here’.  It was slightly disappointing, especially considering our stay on the previous island had been a total of under 30 minutes.  A few people wandered the stalls and looked at the goods, while the others went to purchase beverages from the restaurants.  We just sat at the plastic chairs and waited for our ferry to come pick us back up

The only interesting part of the day was where all the men in our tour group were momentarily stolen away to help launch a new, yet very basic, reed boat.  Coupled with two or three local men, the four guys in our group grunted, pushed, pulled and shoved this massive raft into the water.  Participating in local culture, see that’s what we were looking for on this visit.

As soon as this local boat was floating, our fiberglass one was back to pick us up.  We boarded the top deck and stared at the little floating cities our whole way out of the bay.  Was the trip here worth it?  It’s hard to say.  On one had we were witness to cultures and some traditions, such as their living structures, that have been in place for thousands of years.  On the other hand, they had made it so commercial that you felt though even though you were there to observe it, it was played up soley for your viewing pleasure.  A song and dance and a hand outstretched for a tip after.  So would I do it again?  Of course!  I now have the bragging rights that I’ve been to Lake Titicaca (snicker).

launching a reed boat in Los Uros, Lake Titicaca

reed boat floating in Lake Titicaca

You Might Also Like:

Picturesque Machu Picchu

Monday September 2, 2013

Matt overlooking Machu Picchu

I think it’s safe to say that I went a little snap happy with my camera while we were at Machu Picchu.  I’m positive I took over 300 photos at the ruins while figuring, I can always delete some later, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to go back and add more.  I’m sure my hard drive is giving me a grimacing face right now as it’s bogged down with hundreds of raw photos, because even as I go back through them, I haven’t been able to find many I want to delete.  There just honestly wasn’t many times I could say ‘I don’t think I’ll ever want to look at that photo again’.  This place is just that amazing, where every photograph is special in it’s own way, a little trinket that I was there to experience it.

Now don’t worry, I haven’t loaded all 250 photos that I didn’t use yesterday.  I’m not that cruel.  But here are about 30 photos that I think highlight our time there and show off the different quirks and beauties of these sacred grounds.*

entering Macu Picchu at sunrise

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise (horizontal)

sunbeams through the mountains

overlooking Machu PIcchu from Huayna Picchu

Jessica overlooking mountain

sun filtering through stones

road up to Machu Picchu

exiting cave in Huayna Picchu

stone house on Huayna Picchu

looking from stone house down to Machu Picchu

looking up at stone house on Huayna Picchu

view of Huayna Picchu from Wayna Picchu

stone walls and windows of Machu Picchu

stone house of Machu Picchu

stone tablet Machu Picchu

stone walls of Machu Picchu

grass steps of Machu Picchu

rooms overlooking cliff  Machu Picchu

dirt path through stone walls  Machu Picchu

ascending levels  Machu Picchu

Condor  Machu Picchu

tree behind stone wall  Machu PIcchu

grass levels of ruins  Machu Picchu

sacrificing stone  Machu Picchu

panoramic Machu Picchu

tree standing alone in sacred ruins  Machu PIcchu

llama grazing  Machu Picchu

overlooking Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu

 

*If 30 is still to many, let me know and I can go back and delete a few of them.  I’d hate for any of you to get bored of looking at photos of nearly the same thing, before you even got to the end of the post.

You Might Also Like:

Free Walking Tour: Cusco

Tuesday September 3, 2013

Matt walking down a back alley in Cusco

It finally worked out that we were able to take one of the Free Walking Tours that was being held in Cusco.  It was by pure chance too, we hadn’t even been planning to go when we woke up in the morning.  We just happened to be sitting in one of the plazas playing a rousing game of Slug Bug when the tour commenced behind us.  It seemed much better than our plan of just sitting around, although our sore and aching muscles probably needed it.  Climbing Huayna Picchu = kicked our ass.

Sneaking into the back of the group like this had been our plan all along, fashionably late, right?, we missed the initial introduction but managed to slink in just in time for the big cheer to let the unsuspecting people passing by know how excited our group was to start this tour.  With our guide throwing some music on to a speaker that was attached to his belt, the 20 of us filed down the streets of Cusco while the latest Robin Thicke song blared out ahead of us.

If I thought this tour was going to be soley a history lesson in the Inca culture, or a spiel about the architectural design of the buildings here, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  This was a tour all about what you would want to see in a city, not what you felt you had to.  For most of the tour I was so intrigued in what was going on that I didn’t even remember to take out my camera most stops, only snapping a few photos at scenic overlooks where we stopped to take a break.  So half the photos posted today will be courtesy of Free Walking Tour Cusco.  Here’s one for you now.

FWT 1 Our group circling for the introduction.  (Photo courtesy of FWT Cusco)

 

One of our first stops was at a restaurant that Matt and I had probably passed a dozen times during our previous stay here, but never thought to pop our heads in and check it out.  Inside, everyone was handed a Dixie cup and we sampled Chicha Morada while learning the history behind the beverage made from purple corn.  We also learned it’s a great natural hydrating source after a night of binge drinking.  See, you just don’t learn things like that on other formal tours.  Bottoms were up for me a little sooner than the rest of the group (oops, we were supposed to wait and toast?), and I enjoyed trying out the cinnamon flavored drink again that we had savored with our guinea pig back in Lima.

FWT 2

 (Photo courtesy of FWT Cusco)

 

Throughout the rest of the tour we stopped at a few more restaurants, and visited quiet yet beautiful plazas that were out of the way and therefore free of Peruvians trying to peddle their goods on you as you relaxed.  I swear, I couldn’t get through one chapter in my book without saying ‘No gracias’ five times when we were in any of the main plazas.

Parts of the tour were actually informative history lessons on the area, but without the dull monotone explanation that’s been given by a guide who’s severely underpaid and overworked.  It may have helped that the FWT guides work soley on tips (most of them are students who want to practice their English), but they made every aspect of what you were seeing fun and chic.  It also doesn’t hurt if you’re in a young and interactive group where if the guide is stumped for the an English word and asks as you’re standing in front of a church ‘What’s the name of the place where they kept all the women?’,  someone yells out something ludicrous like “Brothel!!”.  I was wrong, the word he was searching for was convent.

The only way I can think of to fairly describe the tour is to quote a line from a re-mix of Poe’s song, ‘Hey Pretty’.  “Taking me to parts of I city I rarely think of and never visit…”.  This is exactly what that tour was.  Almost all side streets and back alleys, places you would never think to go on your own, but end up being spectacular or authentic or just different and off the beaten path.  The places where you feel you really get to know the city instead of standing around the pretty fountains that your handy guide book told you to visit.  (Of course, those are still worth visiting too)

Other than a second visit back to the Choco Museum, and really, who’s going to be upset about trying mouth watering teas and treats again?, every thing was new and something we wish we would have known about when we first got to the city last week.  Like the sushi bar just up a back alley from the Plaza de Armas where we sampled salmon rolls.  Who would have known such a little gem was tucked back there?  Or that they offered an amazing lunch special too good to pass up, which is how we ended up back there just a few hours after the tour.  I’m so happy that we accidentally stumbled upon Cusco’s Free Walking Tour before leaving, it really did take me to parts of the city I had never seen.

panoramic of Cusco

FWT 3

Group shot from our tour.  (Photo courtesy of FWT Cusco)

P.S.  I totally won the round of Slug Bug today.

VW Bugs in Cusco

 Slug Bug blue, red, and silver!

You Might Also Like:

Stinky and Smiling on Machu Picchu

Monday September 2, 2013

tour of Machu Picchu

*You’ll have to excuse some of the photos in today’s post.  There aren’t as many breathtaking photos as I wanted to include or that this place deserves, a lot of these pictures focus on a practical purpose to show our experience there more than the beauty.  But those pretty photos do have a time and place, so stay tuned tomorrow for Picturesque Machu Picchu.  (Now up, click here to view!)

 

If you’ve never been to Machu Picchu before, there’s a fair amount of planning and organizing that goes into it. Tickets need to be purchased and they need to be done in advance. Find yourself at the top of this mountain without a ticket in your hand, and you’ll be told to turn around and go back home (or just back to town, really) because tickets aren’t sold at the entrance. Only 2,000 people a day are allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and if you want to climb the neighboring mountains of Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu, which we definitely did, you’d better secure those tickets weeks in advance because only 200 people a day are allowed to make that climb. So there we were, still back at Matt’s mom’s house in Michigan, frustratingly trying to get our tickets booked and subsequently getting turned down because we didn’t have Verified by Visa. After a few days and a few phone calls, everything was taken care of and the date we originally wanted to visit was pushed back to four days later because we didn’t book quick enough. That’s seriously how quickly they go.

Our whole schedule in Peru up to this point has been planned around these tickets; what cities we could visit, how long we could stay in them. In short, you don’t just drive up to the sun gate and say, “I wanna get in”. So after booking plane tickets, bus tickets, and now train tickets, we were finally ready to go to Machu Picchu.

Since our climb up Huayna Picchu was scheduled to let us into the entrance of that area between 7 and 8 am, we had set the alarm for 5:30, making sure to pack our bags before we left the hostel since we’d still be at Macchu Picchu when checkout time came and wouldn’t be able to come back to pack after. Eating the tradition free breakfast that most of these hostels offer of bread, jam, and tea, we stuck a liter of water and a couple of granola bars into my messenger bag and set off to take one final bus up the zig-zag road to the entrance. Matt had wanted to do that walk as well, possibly even just to save the $40 in those bus tickets, but I warned that by straining ourselves on that walk/climb up, we’d have no energy left for the mountain. If we hadn’t purchased our bus tickets the night before because he didn’t know about the hiking trail at the time, I doubt he would have listened to my reasoning. He usually doesn’t.

Stepping off the bus at the top we already were running behind at 6:45, and had no idea where the entrance to Huayna Picchu was. Handing over our tickets and passports while passing through a turnstiles like we were entering Disneyworld, we started quickly scrambling up random steps, trying to follow the signs for where we needed to go, until we were greeted with this.

Machu Piccu just after sunrise

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

Did your jaw just drop?, because mine just did. Not only as we saw it, but as I was going back through my photos to post this as well. Imagine how it looked in person. I was awestruck. But only for a minute, because we were still running behind schedule and I was going to be damned if I missed my hike up the mountain. Stopping other early risers that were there with their tour guides, we got directions to where we needed to be and joined a line of about 50 people ahead of us. Looks like we weren’t going to miss our climb after all.

waiting to enter Huyana Picchu

One of the things we noticed as we were waiting in line was how hot it was already getting now that the sun was coming up. Almost every person we had talked to that had been here already spout on about overcast skies, mist, rain, and even snow. We thought we’d be freezing our asses off, and dressed appropriately for that. Matt was in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, and I had layered with running pants and a lightweight hoodie. Something else also occurred to me after we were given our pass and started making our way up Huayna Picchu. “Uh oh”, I glanced at Matt, “I think I forgot to put on deodorant today”. “What do you mean?”, he gawked at me. “How could you forget to put on deodorant?” I replied that we were in a rush that morning, it had been in the bottom of his bag (we keep all our toiletries together), and ooops, I must have slipped my mind as we were rushing out the door. He stared at me with some slight disgust and made sure to put a few more feet between us, as well as keep me downwind of him. I couldn’t be any worse than those people that just hiked the Inca Trail though, right? They must be going on three days now without showers.

first glances back at Machu Picchu

The groups of people that had been slightly spaced out as we began this trek now all crammed together as our path turned from wide dirt trails into steep stone steps. When the sign at the beginning listed the difficulty of this hike as ‘medium’, they were lying. It was frickin’ hard. Higher and higher we climbed at 45 degree angles, although honestly, it could have been steeper, because it felt like we were going almost vertical. Add that to the altitude of straining ourselves at over 7,000 ft, and I’m glad we spent at least two days in Cusco acclimatizing ourselves. It almost became a challenge, for me at least, to not stop. When people ahead of us would get to a small patch of dirt and stand to the side huffing and puffing while they tried not to lose consciousness, I trekked right past them with a smile and a nod, since the extra energy it would take to actually say hello would probably put me right there next to them. Each person we passed felt like a small triumph, especially since in my lack of an exercise world, I don’t think I could run a mile if you pointed a gun at me right now.

climbing the steep steps at Hauyna Picchu

After more steps than I cared to count, we made it up to a viewing area with only one need to stop and take a breath.  The request was actually from Matt, but I was happy to have a minute of deep breathing forced upon me.  Being able to stand for a few minutes without the pressure to keep moving, I’m surprised my legs didn’t give out from under me.  By now they were feeling a little like Jell-o and I had to wonder what the rest of the day was going to be like if I was already feeling this weak at 8:00 in the morning.  Realizing we needed to really slow ourselves down, we let ourselves sit and rest for awhile while taking in the spectacular views.  Matt must have grasped what a special occasion it was to be here because he even suggested multiple times that we get our photo taken together.  The same guy that I can usually only get photos of him walking away because he refuses to pose for them.  I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.

overlooking Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Panoramic from Huayna Picchu

kissing in front of Machu Picchu

 From there it was only farther up.  Not quite as hard with the steep stairs we had just come from, but something that was, um, a little more interesting.  To continue further up the mountain, we had to climb through a cave.  And not just any cave, but one where the entrance and exit were just big enough to squeeze one person through at a time, but only if they were crouched down and basically crawling.  Inside was actually quite spacious, at least compared to the opening, and I believe that rituals used to take place in there.  The exit was a little more fun as it was almost vertical and felt like you were going through a rock tube.  It is definitely not a spot for those with claustrophobia, and I think there have since been other ways built around it.

entering the cave on Huayna Picchu

exiting cave in Huayna Picchu

 From there it was just a few steps up a cricketey wooden ladder, scaling up a few boulders, and we were at the very top!  The views were nothing short of majestic, and we enjoyed it in seclusion with the 20 other people that were scaling boulders next to us, shimmying, jumping, and crab crawling from one place to the next.  While this spot does afford some beautiful views, actual solitude does not come with it.  Nor does the ability to sit and enjoy those views before you for hours on end, because the person behind you wants your spot too.  We did allot ourselves 2-3 minutes on one of the highest perchable places, had another photo taken, and then inched our way across and down the boulders to make room for others.

Matt pointing at mountains

top of Huayna Picchu

top of Huayna Picchu

boulders at top of Huayna Picchu

 Now it was time for the even harder part.  Getting back down.  Those steep steps that we had huffed and puffed to get to the top of, now looked like a vertical death trap on the way back down.  I can see why they advise against climbing here during wet weather.  One slip on the slick rock and you would be a goner.  Even with the wire handrail at my side, I didn’t  trust myself, or my biceps really, to let the one hand on there be all that kept me from tumbling into the valley below.  Following in the footsteps, literally, of the people in front of us, we took their lead and faced ourselves backwards while slowly climbing down, using both our hands and feet as we scaled down it like a ladder.

stone hut on Huayna Picchu

overlooking Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu

looking down vertical stairs

 To the bottom left, you can see the stairs and people climbing down them.

vertical steps

 Here’s another view of them from a photo that Matt’s mom found online.

 

Once we got to the bottom I had no idea how my legs were supporting the weight of my body since with each step we had taken down, they’d shiver and wobble below me.  It was almost like when I did cross-country back in high school, how my legs would go numb after the first mile and a half and I couldn’t even tell I was running anymore.  Which is probably why, as our other hiking companions were crawling their way back into the ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to take on Wayna Picchu as well.  Or whatever the smaller mountain there is called.  The signs here are so utterly confusing that we gave up trying to figure out which mountain was which five minutes after we got here.  It was still worth the taxing climb since this mountain is much less popular, and you are rewarded with beautiful views from the top in actual solitude.  If you ever find yourself here with a packed picnic, I suggest this is where you eat it.

view from Wayna Picchu

 Decending this smaller mountain and getting back to the ruins, we realized what a mistake we’d made about not pacing ourselves, not packing a lunch, and definitely not bringing enough water.  The 1 liter we were sharing between the two of us was now just about empty, and we still had a lot of ground to cover in the hot sun.  Following the exit signs as we left the mountains, we had no idea which was the best way to tour the ruins or if there was one spot to start that was better than the other.  For a little while we had our Peru guidebook in our hands and we leafed through the pages and tried to make sense of the map.  When that didn’t work, we tried to fall in behind tour groups that were already in place.  Big surprise of the day, even with all the gringo tourist there, the only thing we could overhear was Spanish.  I think I caught a whiff of German, and maybe even a little Polish, but absolutely no English.

You may be asking why we didn’t just spring the few dollars for a tour of our own.  We’ve heard they’re very informative and well with the money, but truth be told, by that point I don’t think we had the energy to trudge around for the next 2-3 hours while getting a full breakdown of the place.  I don’t think our bodies could handled it.  I don’t think our brains could have handled it.  At this point we were just happy to do a little wandering on our own.  In the areas we could tell held high importance, we stood around for a tour group to come by and I would do my best to pick up on a few words and translate them to Matt.  Not the most informative way to see Machu Picchu, but we still felt fortunate just to be standing there at all.

stone wall Machu Picchu

pit of death

 I’m pretty sure this translated to ‘Pit of Death’.

 

It was a very large compound, and we’d aimlessly amble up and down and left and….OMG, they have llamas!!  Excuse me one moment, I’ll be right back.

llama grazing Machu Picchu

Jessica petting llama

 Where was I?  Oh, right.  So we had no real destination, but would just walk through the paths, take random turns, sometimes backtrack, but mostly just tried to see absolutely everything there was before our hearts gave out and we died of heat stroke.  Which if you remember my last post from Cusco, yes, I can die happy now.

stone wall in front of Huayna Picchu

Matt & Jessica overlooking Machu Picchu

 Back on the bus I asked Matt how he felt now about shelling out money for those tickets instead of walking up and down like he had originally wanted.  Face still flushed and panting he replied “Best $40 I ever spent”.  Don’t worry, even though I was right on this, he still won’t listen to me in the future.

Heads resting on our seats as we gazed out the window where the ruins fell slowly out of view, we took to talking about how incredibly lucky we were to be able to come here and how it was worth every penny, including that overpriced train we were about to hop back on.  When Matt asked me what I’d remember most about Machu Picchu, I came back that I couldn’t quite choose between the sunrise over the mountains when we first walked in, or the view from the top of Huayna Picchu, or even the llamas I was able to hunt down and pet.  When I reversed the question to him, he responded “That my wife forgot to wear deodorant”.  Well, at least he’ll remember something.

 

 

You Might Also Like:

Strains, Trains & Aguas Hot Springs

Sunday September 1, 2013

PeruRail

Today we were able to add a new mode of transportation to our list of various different ways we get from here to there, by taking the train from Poroy, a small town just a few miles outside of Cusco, to Aguas Calientes.  Getting up at the crack of dawn, we shleped with our overstuffed backpacks down to the Plaza de Armas to meet our taxi driver from yesterday who agreed to get us to Poroy for half the cost that was quoted from other cabs.  When he never showed, (and we had a slight feeling he wouldn’t.  He spoke no English and my Spanish is still muy terrible) we started hailing other taxis while still trying to get a price that we liked.  That’s somewhat of a good thing here.  There’s no meters, so you agree upon a price before you get in.  If they quote higher than you want, you just tell them to move on while you wait for the next guy.  We ended up going through three cabs before we could finally get a price that was agreeable, but still saved about $4 from what everyone else was trying to charge us. I know it’s not much, but I don’t like having to pay the ‘tourist’ price when I don’t have to.

Cusco at sunrise Sunrise in the plaza. So pretty.

 

Getting dropped off at the train station, we noticed right away that there was something different between us and all the other people waiting to board.  No one had any piece of luggage larger than a small carry on that would fit on a plane, and here we were with these jumbo bags on our backs.  After reading the small print on our tickets, it turns out that the train does not have a storage compartment like the buses do, and your luggage is supposed to be limited to 11 pounds or less.  1.)  Ooops.  Guess we should have read that earlier.  and 2.)  What the hell were we going to do now?  There was no way we’d have time to go back to Cusco, leave our bags at the hostel, and get back before the train departed.  So we did what we do best.  Played stupid.  We acted like we had no idea there were rules against the size of bags on our backs, and no one said anything.  As soon as we stepped on the train we stashed them on a small shelf at the entrance and ignored the dirty looks from others as we took our seats.

In his own odd way, I think Matt was kind of happy to be breaking the luggage rule as he could find one little way to ‘stick it to the man’, or PeruRail, since the cost of their tickets are pretty frickin steep, and they’re the only way in and out of Aguas Calientes unless you want to walk.  Not only that, but they even sat us apart even though we ordered our tickets together.  I just sat back, next to the perfect stranger they put me next to, and enjoyed the views out the window.  There were some amazing sights along the way, and it even worked out that my new neighbor spent about 30 minutes in the bathroom, so I was able to drool all over the window as we passed by snow capped mountains and a rushing river.

mountains outside of Cusco

river outside of Cusco

Off the train it was once again time to search for a hostel.  My normally handy searches on Travellerspoint had given me no indication that there was anything available here in the way of hostels, and we thought we might be shelling out $70 or more for the cheapest hotel room we could find.  For Matt, I think he would have paid it if it meant he didn’t have to walk around all afternoon with that backpack on his back.  I swear that thing is over 60 pounds, and when we snatched it up from the streets of Vietnam a few years ago, was obvious the straps and supports were not made for someone his size.  We just started walking into anything we could see from the street that had the word Hotel or Hostel on it, and wound up with a decently cheap private room at the second place we stopped.  Our bags were put away, and we searched the streets for things to do.

Scrutinizing hairless Peruvian dogs was one of them.  We had never come across them before, but there seems to be an overwhelming love for them in this town, because everywhere we went we saw them running around.  I’m still not sure how I feel about them.  If I think they’re incredibly disgusting, or if they’re so ugly they’re almost cute.

Peruvian hairless dog

 The other big draw of this town, are the hot springs.  These sit just on the outskirts of down, but not more than a ten minute walk.  They are natural thermal springs, from which the town derives it’s name.  For the cost of about $3.50/person, you gain admission to the site where there are multiple pools of springs, ranging in temperature.  We weren’t expecting a lot, but figured it would be a good way to waste a few hours as well as soak our muscles before our long hike up Huayna Picchu tomorrow.  It’s a good thing that we weren’t expecting very much, as things springs were not all that nice.  The water is a little murky, it smells like sulfur, and there’s the few occasional dead bugs floating by.  Surprisingly, we didn’t mind any of that very much.  It was an experience to go there, and that’s what we were getting.

For two and a half hours we sat and soaked in one of the warmer pools, sometimes changing it out for a cooler one and then going back.  A few other travelers that had just done Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were in there with us, and it was fun to hear the stories about their hikes.  To say that we’re excited about going there tomorrow would be a total understatement.  We have been looking forward to this since before we even booked our plane tickets to Peru.  While in the tubs, since Aguas Calientes sits at the bottom of some very large mountains surrounding it, the sun dipped behind them at the incredibly early hour of 2:30.  It cast some beautiful light onto the mountains surrounding us, and we decided to hit the showers in our hostel and explore town a little more before it got completely dark.

entrance to hot springs Aguas Calientes

Matt in the hot springs Aguas Calientes

view of Huayna Picchu from hot springs, Aguas Calientes

 The rest of Aguas Calientes looks to be a very nice town that is also used to catering to tourist, with lots of restaurants, shops, and even a large soccer field with someone always out playing or practicing on it. I wish we would have had more time to spend here, but the train is taking us back to Cusco tomorrow just after we finish hiking Machu Picchu.

P.S.  Can anyone tell me what that rainbow flag symbolizes?  We keep seeing it everywhere in Peru!

Plaza de Armas Aguas Calientes

old train tracks running through Aguas Calientes

bridge crossing Aguas Calientes

house with glass viewing platform, Aguas Calientes

 

You Might Also Like: