Machu Picchu; land of Incans with too much time and energy

We tore ourselves away from our little paradise and did the Macchu Picchu thing. We decided to take the train from Ollantaytambo ($31 US for 1.5 hours). WHAT a ripoff, even more so because the train is owned by Chileans. But it was quick and we got into Aguas Calientes and bargained for a private room for sl.20 ($7), our cheapest bed yet. Obviously food is overpriced but we were able to bargain at some restaurants and snuck our own food into the Macchu. There’s signs everywhere saying you can’t bring any food in, but no one checks your bag and there’s no food available on the site. I’m not getting all grumpy and hungry because of a silly rule they don’t enforce. The student rule is also a crock. When we bought our tickets, I thought I could get the student price but apparently students have to be under 21! Most people don’t graduate college by 21. So, $40US to get in and we opted NOT to take the bus up to the site (another $12, roundtrip). The hike wasn’t bad at all, just uphill for about an hour and a half. If you DON’T want to pay to enter, you can follow this detailed blog here.

The ruins themselves are impressive. I don’t know how much of it has been restored, probably most of it, and it didn’t have the Indiana Jones feeling that Kuelep had but it was expansive and planned out. People still aren’t sure about it’s purpose or why it was mysteriously vacated, but it was cool to walk around and eavesdrop on some tour guides’ spiels and learn a thing or two. We left around dawn and got there before most of the major tour groups. We beelined it to Wayna Picchu, a peak higher than MP with more ruins and an amazing view down onto MP.

The hike was straight up but the trail was obviously maintained and used. The mountains around these ruins are HUGE and shear and green. It was like a movie backdrop it was so unreal. We only suffered a short rainshower and the rest of the day was sunny. The stone masonry is quite unbelievable. Here I am, so proud when I make a blanket or windchimes out of driftwood and these Incans move rocks bigger than me to make walls, houses, astronomical markers and the scariest bridge I’d ever seen.

At least most bridges have something to hold onto with your hands and if it snaps, you can still hold on and climb up the other side. The Incan Bridge, located behind MP, maybe 20 minutes of walking, is basically a shear rock exposed flat face with a bunch of rocks piled up, maybe 4 feet wide, but rocks piled up at least 100 feet. If your rock slips, there’s nothing to hold onto. It’s closed off now because just that happened to a tourist.

Scary bridges aside, we enjoyed the day, the views, the artificially planted grazing llamas and impressive ruins with monster boulders. It would be a nice place to live if it wasn’t such a pain to hike down to the river for water.

The next day we took the backpacker way out: walked on train tracks for 2 hours to a Hydroelectric Plant and opted to walk another 1.5 hours through a transition zone into the jungle (since the local buses weren’t leaving the plant for another 2 hours). We hitched a ride the rest of the way, which I’m glad we did. The main trail would have taken us only 30 more minutes, but a new bridge was built and we crossed that which led behind town through a valley before going into Santa Teresa (probably more than an hour more that way). I was sad we didn’t get to cross in the arroyo, a metal bucket that you pull yourself across the river, but we had a nice hike, saw lots of chickens, banana and coffee plantations and made it back to our temporary home in the evening. From Sta Teresa, we caught a local bus to Sta Maria, then another bus (they said it was the last bus…i think the last bus with gringos) which was an SUV we shared with 4 non-chatty foreigners. I think there’s more local buses for cheaper, but the trip back cost a total of $13 instead of the $31 on the train.

On another note, I bought a chocolate popsicle in Sta Maria made from fresh cacao from the jungle (Sta Maria is on the edge of the jungle). It was delicous! Matt had a fresh strawberry popsicle. Here they fill bags with the liquid, tie it off and freeze it. Like homemade Otter Pops or Freezies.

Sacred Valley: Destination Urubamba

We’re at our final volunteer project on this trip and have set some roots for the next month at Wilka T’ika, a yoga retreat center with a vegetarian kitchen. They don’t have a volunteer program like most yoga centers, because this place is not like most yoga centers. The staff is all local Quechua and the center is more set up for outside yoga groups to come and tailor their own trip. The place is beautiful and made with all local materials and the details are so impressive. Gardens galore filled with territorial hummingbirds of all sizes, rooms with natural stone work, large yoga rooms with hardwood’s so nice to sit on the ground again and stretch or read in the grass not filled with litter and nastiness.

My project here is to teach vegan and gluten free recipes that they can add to their lacto-ovo repetoire. Matt’s project is to teach English and answer computer queries. The staff is really friendly and most of them are family that helped with the construction of the site. I’m having a lot of fun teaching them stuff in the kitchen. Last night we served my first entree here and it was a big success: Lasagna! We made the pasta dough from scratch, ricotta and sauce from scratch and sauteed up some spinach and garlic to give it a kick. It was delicious and the guests liked it so much that a group of them requested it for lunch today. We didn’t have time to make the pasta, but it still came out yummy.

It’s fun teaching comfort foods and homemade bread and vegan cuisine. The gluten free teaching hasn’t begun yet, as I can’t seem to find any buckwheat or sorghum flour. Not sure if it exists in Peru, but we will try. Oats just seem too risky to use…especially since the only oats in Peru are Quaker brand. Yeah, it’s probably all sorts of tainted with wheat.

Our free time has been spent meditating and reading and we don’t really have much of a desire to leave the center most days, it’s just too beautiful and peaceful here to want to go anywhere else.

Finally in Cusco!

After months of having one of the top questions by locals be: have you been to Cusco? We can finally answer YES. We took an overnight bus from Arequipa via Cruz del Sur, THE western friendly bus to take in southern Peru. We liked it, but didn’t think it was anything over the top, especially since part of the route was on a dirt road and kept Matt awake.

So, we are back at high elevation, and it is cold! It feels possibly colder than Puno, although it is at a lower elevation than Puno. A little rain at night, but not too much. The streets remind me of Granada, Spain. The sidewalks are barely wide enough for one person, the cobblestone roads are barely wide enough for a car. The houses have terracotta roofs, and it could be quaint, except for the obvious fact that it’s a tourist town. Meaning, people approach quite often selling you paintings, jewelry, alpaca hats and massages. They aren’t very pushy, which is nice. And it’s cute to see the llamas walking around with their owners, even if they are just doing it for photo money.

So far we’ve walked around the city, did a trolley tour, and saw a local soccer game versus Arequipa (and the crowd was pretty rowdy. people brought flares and drums and trumpets into the stadium with them. we didn’t witness any violence, and cusco won. when we made the first goal, a guy rushed the field to hug the player that made the goal, so that was neat. Sadly, no streakers.) Things obviously cost more here than the rest of Peru, but the food is good. We had breakfast at a place called Jack’s, aptly named. I think Jack would be pleased with the large portion sizes. Very yummy breakfasts!

We found the Cusqueña Beer Factory but were not allowed in. I guess the concept of factory tours isn’t really understood here. The guard told us it’s just a factory, but if we really wanted to go in, we’d have to gather a group of 10 people and give them a week’s notice…notice for what? I’m not sure.

a break in Arequipa

We decided to break up our bus time to Cusco by stopping for a night in Arequipa, Peru. We both really enjoyed this city the first time around and it was comforting to return to a place where we knew our way around and didn’t have to seek out food. We already knew where we wanted to eat as soon as we got off the bus (Lunch at Gopal, fill your gut with a 3 course lunch of fake meat and veggies for about $1).

We did see something new this time, though. We took a little walk to the suburb of Yanahuara, which felt like a richer section of town. There was a nice mirador and shady park to enjoy, but the view was limited due to smog or fog or something. No volcanoes visible this day. There was a church built from the white volcanic rock in the main plaza, which had a nice fachada. Fijaos!

Getting out of Chile as fast as we could

Chile was breaking our budget. We were not used to paying more for a meal than we do in the US, and I’m not talking McDonald’s, folks. We paid $14 to camp in a dusty, noisy campground in San Pedro de Atacama. We hurried back to Arequipa, Peru, where we had a room with 2 beds and a private bathroom for $8. BIG difference.

We took a night bus to Arica, which was only a Semi-Cama but we slept okay on it (Frontera Del Norte). Once we arrived in Arica at dawn, we hopped in a shared taxi to cross the border and head to Tacna, Peru. The buses weren’t working that early in the morning, so we had no choice but to pay $6 a person instead of $3 a person for the journey. After being in Chile, we didn’t care as much.

Border formalities were pretty quick and efficient, and in Tacna we hopped on the next local Flores bus to Arequipa. This bus wasn’t too noisy, but it was HOT. We were the only tourists on the bus and there were at least 3 aduana stops where officials got on the bus and seized bags of clothing off the bus. We figured there were about 4 women involved, sitting on piles of clothes, stuffed under their seats. A number of people on the bus were sitting on piles of clothes as well. We didn’t understand what the deal was. I asked a guy nearby and he told me that they were carrying used clothes to sell. I don’t see what’s wrong with that, unless the clothes are made of cocaine or something. Maybe there’s a law against ugly secondhand clothes. I estimate at least a pickup bed truckful of clothes was confiscated by customs officials. When we arrived in Arequipa, the women started organizing their hidden stashes of clothes and I don’t understand how they got it all to fit in the first place. They started throwing out 50lb rice bags filled with clothes out the windows. I think they had more luggage than everyone else combined. They must have lost only 1/4 of their inventory, because there was a lot left. I’m still confused, and I don’t care about them carrying clothes on a bus…except that all the aduana stops increased our travel time to Arequipa…I estimate our travel time from San Pedro to Arequipa to be about 20 hours. Time for a day off from buses!