Saturday, September 4, 2010

Peru - Cusco

This will be our last post before returning home to the states.  Christine and I arrived in Cusco yesterday, after our private taxi/tour through a few of the remaining sites in the Sacred Valley on our way to the big city.  We toured a site of Inka experimental farming as well as a place where salt ponds have been made to allow water to evaporate, leaving the salt behind.  The pictures say it all, and we´ll post soon after returning home. 

We toured around the city yesterday afternoon.  I was definitely surprised by Cusco, as least the area we´re in.  There are some beautiful old buildings and a very vibrant atmosphere.  We took tons of pictures through the city streets, trying to capture the essence of Cusco.  After a quick shower and putting the last of our clean clothes on, we headed to Los Perros Couch & Wine Bar.  It almost seemed as if this place was plucked from New York City or San Francisco and placed in the middle of Peru.  We lounged on sofas, read American magazines (we´re definitely getting into the Peruvian culture!!!), and ate amazing food.  You probably won´t believe me, but I think I had the best burger of my life there.  Other than being huge (we were starving from the day with only a Cliff Bar and some nuts we bought from a street vendor), it was bursting with flavor.  We also had terrific wontons with various dipping sauces and Christine had a vegitarian stir-fry.  We ended the night having fun and interesting conversation with a couple from LA who was on their first day of a year of traveling.  They bought an around the world plan ticket and will be spending their first 3 months in South America.  Of course, it had Christine and I talking about our own lives, as most every conversation here in Peru has. 

We slept in today, this being the only day we haven´t set an alarm....something Christine lobbies occasionally.  We had breakfast at the hostal then headed to visit museums throughout the city.  We had lunch at Jack´s Cafe, with great coffee, coca tea, french toast, and soup.  Now, we´re about the head to yoga.  Yes, can you believe it? My first time taking yoga will be in Peru! After discussing how stiff and tight our bodies feel from not running, biking, or any of the other activities we typically take part in, we ended up behind a yoga instructor at the cafe.  She told us she had a 3 PM class and we were happy to join.

We fly to Lima tomorrow, then home via Miami on Monday, arriving in Denver around 8 PM.  We look forward to catching up with everyone in the coming days.  Until then, take care.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Peru Update - Ollantaytambo

Just checking in again from yet another place in Peru.  From Pisac, Christine and I took a taxi to Ollantaytambo, where we boarded a train for Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.  Yes, just as it's name states, AC has hot springs.  It's funny how literal names are here, as well as other foreign countries I've visited.  We seem to spruce things up a bit in the States with names like Brushfire Springs. 

Aguas Calientes was like the Estes Park or Gatlinburg of Peru.  From the moment we got off the train, people were everywhere, trying to sell a trinket or give a guided tour.  Just walking down main street you would be bombarded by workers in restaurants trying to persuade you to come in side...."Happy Hour, 4 for 1!"  Christine and I checked into our hotel then headed out to get a glimpse of the trail up to Machu Picchu.  We planned to wake up early and hike up, rather than take the bus like most everyone else.  We got up around 4 AM, had breakfast at 5, and were out the door by 5:15.  We crossed the bridge and started the ascent when the first bus took off at 5:30.  From the maps, the ascent was approximately 1000 vertical ft, but it definitely seemed much more.  By the time we arrived at the top, there was already a long line of people waiting to enter the ruins.  The reason everyone tries to get there early is a chance to be 1 of the 400 people allowed to climb Huaynu Picchu, the egg shaped peak you see in most every Machu Picchu picture.  We made the cut!

While waiting in line, the rain started to fall.....and fall it did.  It was pretty much relentless the entire day.  We hiked through the ruins to find the entrace gate to HP, met a kid from Durango who was traveling through Boliva, Peru, and Ecuador, and headed up in the cold rain.  When we summitted, we were in a fog.  We did get a 2 sec window where the clouds parted and we could see the ruins, but it was gone in a flash.  We hiked back down, walked to through the ruins, and decided to call it a day by 11 AM. There were no signs of the rain letting up and we were completely soaked and cold. 

We headed back to our hotel for some hot coca tea.  They let us use a room to change into dry clothes and we found a great restaurant with a fireplace, where we stayed for hours.  The rains finally stopped in the late afternoon and we hiked around town taking pictures until our train left at 6:30.  We dined on Nutella and crackers, while we watched a fashion show on the will come later!

We took the train back to Ollantaytambo and slept hard after arriving at our hotel.  Olly is an end of the road town in the Sacred Valley, where most people come through headed to Machu Picchu.  We decided to stay here 3 nights, as the ruins are said to some of the most preserved in the valley.  We were greeted with rain again in the morning, so we took the opportunity to check email and then hung out at a great cafe called Heart.  The quick and dirty is that a 76 year old lady from the UK came to Peru to learn Spanish.  She left Cusco due to the altitude (approx 11,000 fasl) and came to the Sacred Valley where she opened a restaurant where all the proceeds go to helping native Quechua women and children.  It's a pretty amazing story, which I'm sure we'll write more about in the future.  The rian finally stopped around lunch and we headed out on a non-stop 5ish hour hike around the ruins and town.  We topped off the night at supposedly the best restaurant in town, where we had Salmon Trout, Quinoa Soup and Alpaca Ravioli. 

This morning, we awoke to yet more rain, but things are looking up.  We came back to the internet cafe to get some information about where we're staying in Lima, as well as some airport information.  We plan to promote Heart again for lunch, then head out on the Inka Trail for more hiking.  If time permits, we may head out of town to the salt flats which seem to be pretty elaborate. 

For those of you who are keeping track on our whereabouts, we will leave Ollantaytambo tomorrow, midday, and take a collectivo to Cusco, which is the biggest city in the region.  We'll be staying there for another 2 nights, then flying to Lima on Sept 5th.  We only get the afternoon in Lima, then we head back to Denver early Monday morning, Sept 6th, via Miami. 

Christine and I continue to have an awesome time in Peru.  I think this trip thus far, more than any other, has opened our eyes and given us a different perspective on life.  One of the best parts of the trip has been the people we have met.  Unlike any other trip, we meet new and interesting people daily, many of which we've seen before.  They all have stories to tell.  We're able to get a glimpse of who they are and hopefully they leave with a sense of who we are.  We have many stories to tell and pictures to share when we return home, but rest assured we are safe and having a wonderful time.