Monday, July 23, 2012

Machu Picchu, Peru

My first 'long off' from work in Brazil and I decide to head to Peru.  It just so happened that our shift schedule is aligned with the shift schedule of our co-workers in another location within Brazil.  My friend, Nate, and I decided to make the journey to Peru together.  It had been a while since I have this sort of opportunity and had forgotten how much effort it takes to plan.  Multiple issues while planning but I knew in the end it would be worth it, and I was was not disappointed!

Our flight to Lima, Peru left at night leaving us with a 6 hour layover in the Lima airport.  Luckily, everything in the airport stayed open 24 hours so we sat in a cafe drinking beers and eating food waiting for our plane. At 545AM, we were on our way to Cusco, Peru!
One of our multiple snacks during out layover in Lima.
Cusco, Peru
Granted it is winter time in the southern hemisphere right now and we are in the mountains with little humidity, but I did not put the two together and realize how cold it was going to be.  And to top things off, the buildings did not have heat.  Luckily, I brought my scarf and gloves and many long sleeve items where I could layer up to keep warm.  When we arrived at our hotel, we were given delicious Coca leaf tea (apparently the same Coca leaf used to produce Cocaine).  

The streets are very narrow and the buildings do not look that big.  From the outside, one might think there is not much behind the door however, it is amazing how vast the area is when you walk into places.  It slowly warmed up throughout the day so I could shed some layers of warmth.  Almost like a dessert-like region where it's super cold during the evening/night/early morning where  you wear winter coats/hats  and then during the day you wear short sleeves.   
Narrow streets of Cusco, Peru.
The historic part of town was very quaint and had a nice square in the middle where many locals would like to sit and enjoy the weather.  There were two historic Catholic churches located in the square.  We took a tour of one which they explained the various local influences which pushed back on the European influences.  For example, their Jesus is of darker skin, positioned looking down, wears a longer skirt and has longer hair. A local artist would depict certain biblical images with local fruits and meats.  The tour guide mentioned that the other church had what they statues of Jesus and one of them was black.  Originally the color was dark skin however, with the use of the Llama/Alpaca oil for light, the smoke ended up covering the statue and turning it black. Unfortunately Nate and I ended up crashing early and did not make it to see the black Jesus.
A cross in the square - unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside the churches.
Machu Picchu, Peru
We took a taxi the next morning to the town of Poroy to catch our train to Aguas Calientes which we then took a bus to Machu Picchu.  We took the lazy man route and did the train because of our limited time.  Both of us would like to return at some point in our lives to hike up the mountain, which takes about 4 days.  We splurged and took the luxury train, Hiram Bingham, named after the scholar who decided to try to restore these ruins in 1911.  We opted for this train because a ticket to Machu Picchu itself was included as well as an English tour.  We had the hardest time trying to buy tickets due to the government suspending sales of tickets outside of Peru. The views from the train were gorgeous as we traveled the 3 hours to Aguas Calientes - small towns, farms, rivers and snow capped mountains.  

When we arrived to Machu Picchu, I expected there to be more hiking than we actually did.  But then again, we did take the lazy way.  Once we got to the top of the trail and walked out to the open - there was Machu Picchu.  The view was absolutely breathtaking and seemed almost fake - unreal that I am standing overlooking this beautiful Inka estate.  There are many theories as to why this estate was built, abandoned, how the community functioned, etc. Restoration still continues to this day. We spent a total of 3 hours or so walking around the ruins.
The spectacular Machu Picchu, Peru
 That night was spent in Aguas Calientes.  The town was small and cute like Cusco but definitely made for the tourists - everything was overpriced. We had seen signs at restaurants in Cusco for Alpaca and Guinea Pig and were determined to try both types of meat.  The hotel directed us to this restaurant which was supposed to be the best in town and served Alpaca and Guinea Pig.  We made reservations because they said it is difficult to get a table, although when we arrived more than half the place was empty.  Upon skimming the menu, our meat was no where to be found.  We decided to take our chances and pick the place that did not try to lure us into their restaurant.  The Guinea Pig meat itself was delicious but the skin was thick and chewy while the Alpaca meat was lean, dense and a little tough for my liking.  We enjoyed some live entertainment at another eatery after dinner before calling it a night.

Ollantaytambo, Peru
Since we were unable to get tickets to climb Huayna Picchu the following day to see the sunrise on the ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to spend all day in the small town of Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley).  This town also had some small ruins but we did not pay to see them.  Instead we hiked up the of the other side of the valley for two reasons: one, this side was free and also had some ruins of a castle and two, it was higher which gave a amazing view of the entire valley.
Ollantaytambo, Peru
Upon arriving, we found our hostel then proceeded immediately to a wood carving class.  It was just Nate, me and our translator, Amanda, in a side room of a house where Julio works on his carvings.  He taught us the simple design that many Peruvians learn when starting woodcarving.  Woodcarving is a family business and he takes great pride in his work.  He is more about the artistic and creative expression of art rather than selling them to tourists.
Julio and my attempt at wood carving in my hand...
In the later afternoon, we took a Peruvian cooking class where we learned to make stuffed peppers.  Again, it was just Nate, me and our translator, Sam, in the kitchen of a local restaurant called Pachamama meaning Mother Earth.  She was super nice and showed us each step and gave it to us to finish.  These were the yummiest stuffed peppers I have ever had.  They were even delicious cold the next morning as our breakfast in the taxi at 530AM.

I really enjoyed the ability to interact with locals on a one-on-one level.  This was organized through the group called Awamaki,, which is a non-profit org trying to involve the tourists more with the local community.  Their main purpose is to revitalize the weaving tradition of the local communities in that area. 

Back to Reality
The entire trip was long and tiring but completely worth the effort. We woke up at 445AM to catch a taxi back to the Cusco airport to spend the day on planes, buses and taxis to eventually return home and go to work the next morning at 8AM.   Cannot wait for the next long off adventure...we are thinking The Amazon!

More pictures of our trip can be found on my Picasa page, click HERE.

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