Wow wow wow

The morning started very early. We’d set our alarms for 4:15 so we could get our breakfasts from the hostel and head to the bus station. Of course a night like this you don’t sleep we’ll because you’re thinking about making sure you wake up in time.

Alas at 4:30am my body woke us up and neither of our alarms had worked. My iPad was ringing but was set to vibrate, and Karthik’s phone died in the middle if the night. Lol. Alas, we rushed and had an adrenaline to get ready and I headed out first to start waiting in line for the buses that started to load at 5:30am.

I walk we’d from the hostel just a few minutes but found myself in the marketplace weaving through a maze of darkness which made me a little nervous, but then appeared a security police guard just walking around and all was fine. I then saw the street that had all the buses lined up and a flood of hikers ready to do their trek, and wait in line for the bus.

I sat next to a group of older people from Canada whom we’ve kept bumping into the entire trip. They were talking about an older woman about 79 who had always wanted to see Machu Picchu and got this far but fell ill to altitude sickness and had problems so much so that she was in the hospital. Another reminder that I’m so glad I didn’t have any issue with the s altitude.

Karthik then showed up and so did our guide so all was good with us making our way up to the gates for the opening at 6am to see the sunrise coming over the mountains. We boarded the second bus and started our way immediately down the path towards the mountain. As we began our ascent, the bus weaved long swoops up the hill with tight hairpin turns that led us to the next level.

Once at the top, we saw the queue at the entrance and there were about 45 people in front of us who were huffing and puffing drenched with sweat for having hiked up the mountain to the entrance rather than the bus ride up. We’d considered this, but ended up being persuaded to take the us since we were doing the steep huyana picchu climb starting from 7-8am.

Minutes after we arrived, our guide told us to get our passports ready with all our tickets and we were soon going through the check point. We then moved quickly ahead everyone else because they were parts of bigger groups that had stragglers that made them wait. We walked just a little up the hill and around a corner, we turned and you see the first house on the hill. And just a few steps more, the entire picture perfect Machu Picchu splendor is before your eyes. The cool blueness of predawn had a eerily effect to it, but the serenity and wonder of it all really was absolutely breathtaking. It is one of the sights I will log in my memory bank as something unforgettable– the moment you see something so familiar, but for the first time in real life.

We then began the history lesson of the tour from our guide nayruth. We started the tour but needed tot ale pictures immediately since there wasn’t a soul in the foregrounds. After pictures, we continued on to the main points in the areas visiting the inca house (the kings room) where you saw where his bed and bathroom were. You could see the drainage system that was being used, and the holes on the rocks where torches would be held for lighting. The precision at which the rocks were placed together is a marvel that even today’s technology would have a hard time to reproduce, if even possible. After the house, we saw astrologers areas where they would view the constellations in a reflection from a rain puddle. We also saw a number of places that had so many amazing stories about these people. It was truly amazing.

After our tour of about two hours throughout the ruins, we got to the entrance gate of huyana picchu, which only limits 400 climbers a day. 200 between 7-8 and 200 between 11-12. We were lucky to have tickets to this, yet, we’d received so much inconsistent feedback that we were a little worried. So,e people said it was an excruciating hike up the mountain, with dangerous steps that you could fall off the side of the mountain. Others recall a cave that you have to bet your hands and knees to get through. Karthik has acrophobia so was concerned as well.

We started our hike at a little after 8 and I was surprised that they were shutting the gates behind us to the stragglers who were late. We got our sunscreen on and bug spray (again people said the bugs were horrible) and started our way up the mountain.

It was tough for sure. At this altitude the air is very thin and you huff and puff up the turns up this amazing mountain. There wasn’t hardly anyone around, but as we started getting more than halfway up, we saw others starting the trek down. The feedback seemed positive so we continued on. We met fellow texans on the trails well as Californians, Japanese, French, Austrians etc. at the main part where it becomes difficult, was about another 20 minutes away from the top. Karhtik opted to stay at the terraces, and I co tuned onto the peak. This is where it became very steep, and while wrapping around the mountain in more stairs and paths, the spectacular view of Machu Picchu was amazing. There aren’t enough times I could take photos I of this to ensure that I had the best picture possible to try and translate the view into something so flat as a picture.

There was a small cave part that had stairs and was a tight squeeze for bigger people, but I did just fine, as well as finally getting to e top, the most dangerous part of the hike. The only reason it was dangerous was because of it being the top. It’s not just a flat plane,it had rocks jutting upward so you had to crawl around to find good positions for pictures.

I found another single traveler that had a good camera so we started taking pics of each other so we could get some shots. After winding back down the back side of the mountain, the oath came back together and I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment to have made it to the top and enjoy the amazing view. The stairs down fromthis were tedious, but fine, and I met back up with Karthik to head back down the mountain. At this point my breathing was completely calm so as we continued down the mountain, people were huffing and puffing and thinking, wait, why aren’t you breathing so heavily. So I calmed their own nerves by describing what was upcoming. And I was so impressed how many older couples I saw attempting this hike. So may families seeing this amazing thing together, as well as random travelers who quickly start up chats. It definitely lit my travel fire again and I realized how much I’ve missed being a traveler when I was younger.

Ats we approached the entrance to huyana picchu again, we reapplied sunscreen and went through other areas of the park to see anything that the tour a have missed. We then wanted to go to the sun gate which is another grandiose hike up the other mountainto get the other view of Machu Picchu.

Despite a simple looking hike, this trail is the inca trail that leads to Machu Picchu. It was really difficult. The sun was extremely hot and the climb seemed to go on forever. Probably because we had been hiking for so long already. We made it up the mountain but Karthik was getting a bit overheated and needed to stop frequently. We made it to the top for pictures and another amazing view of the ruins below. After some more pictures we headed down to the entrance and we were spent. We got tickets for the bus and headed back to aguas Calientes to get our bags together and go eat.

After cleaning up a little, we went to find a restaurant nearby and I had a simple hamburger with fries. I was so hungry after the long day that it went by quickly. After acting we went back to the hostel to get our things and make our way to the train station. There we revisited some people who’d wed seen throughout the day. It’s funny to see all the little connections you can make when doing the same routes.

After boarding the train, there was a Dutch guy and a half American Venezuelan girl that sat in our group of four. After talking and introducing, turns out the girl not only lived in Nashville in her you for years (she currently teaches at a university in northern Iraq) but she and I went to the same elementary school and had several of the same teachers. It was absolutely ridiculous hearing names of teachers from elementary school again after all these years.

After the train ride, we bid our farewells and found our driver. We endured a long drive home that was about to make me sick from fumes, the winding and weaving, the passing on double yellow lines etc. finally we made it back in one piece and took showers and headed to get another but pe to eat after this long 20+ hour day.

Journey to Machu Picchu begins!

Today we set out in the morning to Ollantaytanbo to catch a train for Aguas Calientes where the base of Machu Picchu is. The ride from Cusco was by a private car, and I’m never sure where miscommunication happens but we could not communicate that we didn’t want the windows down when there were fumes or dust from trucks in front of us, and wanted ac because when we closed our windows, we got too hot. It was like a game with us rolling windows up and him turning on the vents, but not the ac, and back and forth.

Anyhow, we arrived in plenty of time to get some food to eat for lunch and catch one of the most scenic train rides winding through first the countryside, then the jungle. Huge mountains towered above our sky-lit train and the windows all around made it easy to see. We met a family from the US who were visiting with her three children, dad and son were on a hike, and the two daughters were with the mom on the train. They were really nice, and the kids were being home schooled. No longer do I think the stigma of home schooling exists, and with all the craziness that happens in the public school system, I think it’s pretty cool to have a field trip to Peru when I was learning about the Incas.

We arrived to Aguas Calientes and we were greeted by the worker at the hostel, and she led us to our hostel. We were warned that they weren’t as nice as Cusco, and sure, that’s understandable. It’s a launching point for a hike, not a luxury b&b. We got into our plain room, and put our stuff down to go explore the little town and see the hot springs.

20130510-205610.jpgAfter wandering around we came to the gate of the warm springs and we entered to take some photos, then liked what we saw and headed back down to get our trunks on so we could take a dip. It’s been really hard to gauge anything because some people say it’s terrible, some people say it’s great. I thought it was fine, relaxing, and fun to talk to others sitting in the water with you. I also like the idea at the medicinal qualities of it may be doing some good too.

After the springs, we headed back and got ready to find dinner. We found a restaurant that seemed decent, though as touristy everything is, it was pricy. Per warning, they tried to slide in a 20% surcharge on top of the bill which we didn’t pay. Typical of tourist places.

After we ate. We headed for our hiking orientation and met our guide, Nayruta, who was telling us we needed to know for our very early morning tomorrow to see Machu Picchu at sunrise!


Moray and Salinas Salt Terraces

Today’s tour took us through chinchero again to see another weaving demonstration. After this we headed for the amazing archeological site of moray. This site showed the amazing intellectual endeavor for creating a way to maintain crops from the countries many microclimates all in one place. The terraces were built in a specific formation to allow temperatures and humidity levels to mock the climates that specific crops grew best in, circling all the way to the center point, the most hot and humid climate of them all. In the center, there was a hole that people would come and give offerings. The shape of the entire place was of a uterus, and had 14 levels. The history of the incas has proven to be fascinating with the amount of mathematical creations that to me, likens them to The magic creations of the Egyptians.

After walking thought the terraces of Moray, we headed to the salt mines. After driving to the middle of nowhere, we turned a hillside and off the cliff, in the most dramatic of landscapes was the salt terraces that created a canyon, brightly white colored with browns and rust colors forming beautiful salt pools throughout. Surrounded by beautiful landscape and mountains, it was the most unusual sights I’d ever seen.

When we arrived, we saw the natural spring that was feeding these pools that flowed throughthe terraces. We touched the water and tasted it and it was like ocean water but sweeter. It felt good, but when our hands dried, they were covered in salt. They run the water and fill the terraces and color them to make various types of salt. The water evaporates and simply leaves salt behind. Talk about an easy industry! Walking through the terraces, the colors were amazing. The vastness of these terraces was truly awe inspiring and so interesting to see how the minerals were simply being pumped from the earth.

After the tour, we came back to our hostel and headed to a great dinner.



The Sacred Valley

Today we got up to head for the Sacred Valley on an all day tour. When the tour guide came to pick us up, he told us that we would need to spot lunch because he had not got authority to pay for our lunch (as per the itinerary from the tour company said lunch would be included). Red flag #2. Anyway, we went to meet up in a square with other tourists and got on a van to head out to pick up some other people. The van was nice, and as we weaved throughout the side of the city, our guide started telling us the story of Cusco. I had been a little nervous, because he was a little old man, and I thought oh boy, this will be hard to understand probably.

To my surprise, his English was amazingly proficient, funny, and informative. The other passengers were nice too, and came from all over the world–England, the US, Australia, etc. After leaving Cusco, we started seeing amazing landscape that comprised of beautiful wheat colored grasses, with a backdrop of snowcapped peaks. It was absolutely stunning. The van stopped every so often to let us have pics of the landscape, so it was really good.

Our first stop was a little town called Pisac. Here they had some markets that you can barter for items, but more interestingly were the Inca ruins that we toured around.

After Pisac, we toured Urubamba, or muddy plains, and had a buffet lunch. We enjoyed our company with a couple from England who are traveling for about a year as well. It’s really amazing to meet so many people who are doing this type of travel, that it reminds me of being younger and having this amazing wanderlust that led me around the world initially.

After lunch we headed to Ollantaytambo which had an impressive fortress that overlooks the small Inca town. Climbing up the stairs, you get winded, but are rewarded with an amazing view and informative lesson in Inca history with their abilities of creating such fortified structures with rocks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

We then finished up the tour with a trip to Chinchero, where we saw a weaving demonstration along with a beautiful old church. As the evening fell upon us, we were able to see some amazing stars, so after our tour of Chinchero, we asked the driver to pull off the road so we can look up and see the different constellations that are seen in the southern hemisphere. It was so beautiful to see the Milky Way and see how many stars you can actually see when you have no light pollution.

Overall, the tour of the Sacred Valley was so nice and informative, that we’re even more excited to start our hike the next morning.

When we arrived back to the hostel, the guides were waiting for us. We were so exhausted from the full day, and still hadn’t eaten dinner, so we went inside to start our orientation of the next few days. Luis, the guide introduced us to our guide for the hike, Bernie. He was there with the porter as well. I had the itinerary printed out to follow along because after the couple of hiccups before, just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

Unfortunately, the other people dropped out of the tour apparently, which meant that they were no longer providing a tour van for the group, since there were just two people. They then said that we would need to be up and ready by 3:45am (in about 7 hours!), and would need to pack everything that night. They would lead us to a public bus station where we would board a public bus at 4am, drive for a couple hours, transfer at another terminal, and drive another 2-3 hours to reach the origin point of our trek. This did not sit well with us at all, as we were under the impression that we would have safe transportation the entire time we were in their hands. A public bus station in any country at 4am does not seem the safest place to be. After they continued on telling us where we would stop and what we would do, there were a couple other changes, and a few things that made the actual hike not sound like what we had purchased–IE: the final day was hiking along a road with cars for the entire day to reah the base of Machu Picchu. All these things added up to making us feel very uncomfortable with the organization of the trek, the execution of everything, and after talking to other travelers and what they have paid for what they received, it seems like we paid even more, and were receiving less quality/safety.

We spent the next several hours trying to find a solution that would make us feel safe in going, and it just spiraled down hill. We were hungry, exhausted, and the longer we stayed up, the less likelyhood of us being physically prepared to get up at 3:45 to start our 4 day hike. We called the travel agent that we paid, as the guide, nor the organizer were the people who had been the person who actually sold us the trek. We spent a couple more hours with him on the phone and were up until 1am, at this point completely baffled, exhausted, angry, frustrated, and mentally out of it, we ended up asking for a refund and trying to figure out what we could salvage from what we’d bought the next morning.
The last stop is the small market town of Chinchero where you will get to purchase some souvenirs as well as visit ruins on your way back to Cusco. You arrive in Cusco at approximatley six in the evening.

All Around Cusco

Cusco is quite high in altitude, over 11,000 ft above sea level. I was quite worried that there may be some type of altitude sickness, but luckily I’ve had none. You’ll see some people huffing and puffing throughout walking around the city, but other than that, I’ve had no effect from being at altitude.

Today, we spent walking around the city taking in the sights of this significant ‘navel’, or center of Inca nation. The native Quecha language named Cusco as such to signify that this city was the center of the inca nation, so many things center around the existance of this city. From the hostel, we walked down towards the main Plaza de Armas that has beautiful cathedrals and churches. After visiting the square we headed to look through the recommended Inca Museum. For a country with a wealth of history, I was surprised that the Inca Museum was not better presented or thought out as a major tourist attraction. Walking from room between room, you could view artifacts that had been uncovered from the Inca nation, along with the historic time periods of Peru’s past.

After visiting the museum, we headed for the San Pedro market place. It was a huge market with everything fresh from meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. We stopped and took a picture with a woman selling some fruit juice, and I had juice from a tiny little fruit that looked like an oblong tomato. She said it was kin to tomato, but Ill have to look up and see exactly what it was. It was a nice juice, and we drank two glasses full, while chatting with her.

After this market, I headed down to check out the Artisan market for a bit since I wanted to look for some ceramics or pottery that might be nice to bring home. On my way down the Avenida del Sol, I saw a cafe that looked like a french bakery, so of course I stopped in. I had an afrijole with dulce de leche, and it was so good. When the lady walked up to me to take my order, she said what beautiful blue eyes. Sometimes I forget that when you go to a place that doesn’t have many blue eyed people, that it can stand out a bit :) After chatting with her for a while, we took a picture and I was on my way down to the market.

Arriving at the market was a maze of handicraft stalls all selling things from Alpaca wood shawls, mittens, hats, sweaters, ceramics, masks, very colorful blankets etc. It was fun to look through things and see what handicrafts represented Peru. I then headed to the Plaza of San Blas which is well known for artists galleries and such and saw some great shops with art and crafts.

We then met our guide in the evening, and after being told he’d arrive at 6pm, we waited for a little over an hour before he showed up.. which of course made me nervous. However he sat down and told us about the next day which we would join a tour to see the Sacred Valley. He talked a little bit about the trek that we signed up for, but didn’t give us much details, so he said he would come back the following night to discuss the hike with us in the evening. We were excited because it sounded like there might be just 2 of us on the trek, so it would become a private journey!

We’ve met some nice German girls in the hostel, and we have been hanging out with them. They are traveling throughout South America, and the world for that fact for 12-18 months. So we went to dinner with them and enjoyed a nice meal, but I was so hungry after we walked and searched for food, that I was crashing fast. We ended up at a nice Italian restaurant, but I had overextended myself for the day literally walking since morning, and the sun was hot, my face red, and my feeding time about 3 hours past. After the first pizza came out, i was starting to feel so badly, that i had to leave dinner and head up to the room to rest. Lesson learned! Maybe there are some effects from the altitude that were subtle, but after a good night’s rest, I was back to normal.

Off to Cuzco

Today we headed for cusco, situated at 11,000 ft. Our flight was easy but the airport was a little nuts. We made it easily on time, but the lines were ridiculous so we got a bit ansy.

The flight boarded us out on the Tarmac which was fun, but we came in two bus loads. The place was really nice and modern, just like the airport. I’ve been really surprised at how modern everything is, as Peru never struck me as being a place with free wifi at every restaurant. (Ahem Australia).

Coming down, our descent was really fast as we were already so close to the land. Coming out of the plane I did have a little touch feeling something a little off, but I’m also a little anxious about feeling the effects of altitude sickness because of so many mixed reviews. We got our luggage and found our taxi driver after a little search.

We drove through a beautiful brown colored city that I’d seen coming in from the plane. The colors are so nice and seem almost Greek with bright blues against stark whites. The rooftops are all Spanish tiles so it makes for a very Tuscan look as well. The streets are cobbled stone and wind through the hills where we kept climbing to our pensione allemania. We were thinking it was quite a ways away from the center, but after our dinner at the main plaza de armas, we were quite happy with our location.

Once arrived at tHe hotel we were given our keys and shown our rooms. This place is incredible and has an Austrian feel to it being very wooden with gardens and Juliet type balconies over looking common cafe styled areas in our own private yard. The views are breathtaking with the rooftops addi so much character to the density of the packed sea of houses below.

We instantly started drinking coca tea to help with what we were starting to notice as some light headedness. After tea, we went to find something light to eat near by in San blas square, a cute little outdoor cafe called pacha papa. We ordered some soups and enjoyed hearing live music from a harp type instrument. I instantly began thinking of my dad when he strummed the Sony, pour Adeline, a song I played on the piano so many years ago.

After eating we stopped to look at some of the market goods that locals were selling and Karthik picked up some cool coasters that were hand made and showed some NASCAR lines as well as inca designs. He also got a sweater..a good idea for sure. It’s a little chillier here at night which was to be expected but the day was simply perfect weather.

We then weaved, excuse me, heaved our way back to the pensione and were huffing a bit at the top. We got back to our room and took a great nap to aide in our acclimating. Waking up we were really hungry so we ventured down to the main square while we took amazing pictures with the evening light showing the amazing colors and feel of the city. After a nice walk downhill, we found the recommended place by the hotel, but also one we’d heard about from preciously from other travelers called limo. So we decided on limo, and we ordered some great appetizers to try alpaca for the first time, along with ceviche, and lomo saltado. The yucca fries were so good, and we had a nice dessert, but I fear the sphere from astrid & gastón has ruined me for all other future desserts :(




Lima, the third largest city in South America

This morning we woke up and had a great free breakfast at the hostel to get our day started. We figured we could get some food and head outto find a city tour to join so we could get our bearings of the city and see some sights. We walked to Kennedy park and found the kiosk that sold us reserve seats on an open air bus. We missed the 9:30 one so opted for the 2:30 one.

We then headed down Larka street to reach the beach. Walking through the streets is always an adventure with all the stores, vendors, beautiful architecture juxtaposed against ugly worn. Out buildings alongside modern tries as well. After a good 15 minute walkwe started to see the end of the cliffs of miraflores which opened up to beautiful vistas of green cliffs falling down to the actual seashore. My initial impression reminded me of Santa Monica’s seaside highway with tall cliffs to one side. After taking in the initial views,we walked to a kiosk topics up some bikes to ride along the boardwalk.

The ride was great and gave us quick access to multiple parks with statues and people enjoying the serenity of looking over a beautiful landscape backdropped by an endless ocean. We came upon people paragliding as well and definitely want to do it when we come back through Lima on our way out.

We then found our way to lunch at la grab fruits, a recommendation from someone on our flight. Our hostel is absolutely the most conveniently located place to stay. We are literally in the middle of everything. After a great lunch of sandwiches and fresh fruit juice, we headed back to the park to get on our bus for the tour.

20130504-230118.jpgWinding through the streets of Lima while hearing the hustle bustle of the cars below honking nonstop, crossing lanes, bullying ways through red lights, it’s amazing we didn’t see any type of accident. The architecture made for some great photo ops and by the time we made it to the historic center of Lima, we were getting ansy to disembark and see some sights on foot. We ended up at the oldest monastery in Peru. It began construction in 1490 ish? Think Columbus discovery, and continued for over 200 years.. Think pilgrims landing. Tiles were original as was so many other architectural elements such as the puzzle piece ceilings were absolutely incredible. We then journeyed into the catacombs which were very interesting as well. We saw where bones after bones of 10,000 bodies were decomposed and the bones all remain.

After the monastary, we got back to the bus and headed for miraflores again this time passing by all the parks and boardwalk that we had enjoyed during the bike ride.

We then headed back to relax a bit before our culinary experience at astrid & gastón, a restaurant recommended by a friend of karthiks. On tonight’s menu was octopus, the ceviches, suckling pig, chicken, then the finale was a chocolate sensitive sphere. A chocolate, ball with raspberry compote that’s refrigerated and brought out with hot chocolate being drizzled on top to melt the sphere to expose the goodness inside. The most decadent of desserts ever, and a,a singly I shared.




Off to Peru! Arrival in Lima

After a connection in Dallas, one in Atlanta, we finally arrived safely in Lima’s nice modern airport. During the end of the flight, Karthik and I met the flight attendants Gina, and Rosie along with a passenger Martín. Rosie was a sweet girl living in Atlanta and was from Lima so, and Martín currently lives in Lima. Martín was blond and looked very german to me so i was surprised to fin out he was Peruvian. We began asking for restaurant recommendations and got a full list of places that are near our hotel.

Karthik was towards the back of the plane, and I sat next to an 82 year old woman who didn’t speak any English. I was amazed to see that my comprehension of Spanish led me to understand that just 4 years ago she had a transplant of the cornea from someone who had been involved in an accident. She was the mother of 6, grandmother of 7 and great grandmother of 2. She lives in Montreal and likes French better than Spanish. I was feeling pretty confident in my comprehension so was excited to try to use it as much as possible.

Exiting the long lines at immigration after finding out bags– what an amazing sight!– we went and changed money and I was hoping to see a sign on the outside with my name on it for our driver.

Leaving customs we were greeted by crowds and crowds of people and it felt like being in a pageant. People had flowers and there was a sea of families lined up waiting for loved ones. Among the crowd, without seeing a face, I saw ‘Benjamin Trotter’ and I had a huge sigh of release.

Edu was 29, had just started learning English and was proud of his taxi service. He talked to us the entire 30 minute drive from Callo, where the airport is located. The streets were somewhat busy but abandoned at the same time.

Where we started to see more life was at miraflores where our hostel is located. The safest part of town, it’s also the liveliest. After getting a quick shower and settling into our quaint little hostel, we went to the common area to meet other travelers. It instantly brought me back to my younger years of adventure and wander.

We then headed out and the sights and smells of this bustling night life had me salivating for street food. I’d eaten so much all day that I wasn’t really hungry, but when I saw a vendor creating a chicken sandwich topped with shredded potatoes and cheese, I wanted it. But I filed it away to enjoy tomorrow during our day tour of Lima. We wandered the streets that were full of party goers but also a prominent view of police. It was very orderly and fun. After a little bit of exploration we headed back and got earplugs, as miraflores is apparently the center of everything fun in Lima.