Thursday, June 30, 2016

Peru Trip: Cusco Part II

The night I arrived back to Cusco from Macchu Picchu, I met up with my sister and brother in law who had been acclimating in Cusco for a day. We made plans for the next day to go to Pisac which is another Incan ruin about thirty minutes out of town. After my experience at Macchu Picchu the day before, I figured off the beaten path may be a good thing.

We met up that next morning, got in a collectivo and headed over. The ride there wasn't quite as picturesque as the one to Ollyantaytambo but it also wasn't as long especially as this driver seemed to accelerate around each turn.

A thing to note about collectivos to Pisac. They drop you off at the town which is about five miles away from the ruins. We found out later you can hike up to them but we instead took a taxi (21 sole) to them. As we approached the gate I nervously saw another huge line like the one for the bus up to Macchu Picchu but luckily this was just for the unlucky souls who hadn't already purchased the boleto touristico (tourist ticket). Our taxi brought us right past them all and dropped us by the entrance.

Pisac is cool because, in addition to the agricultural terraces on the steep hills(which increased the amount of growing than would have otherwise been available to them), it is thought to have served as the southern fortress guarding the sacred valley. Ollantaytambo was the northern fortress so it was interesting to see how the two utilized their natural environments to create protection.

Pisac while not as big as Macchu picchu also didn't have its crowds and it was nice for the three of us to explore without being whistled at for going the wrong way. In all it was definitely worth it. And that was before we discovered the trail back down to town.

As I said I am somewhat glad my brother Matt didn't come because of the bees and heights and this was another instance of that. The trail tapered so that it was probably only a foot or two wide with a big drop at one side. Having Marilyn there was nerve wracking as I kept a hyperviligent eye on her.
Yes. I know I am going to be a helicopter parent. So what?

The other nerve wracking aspect was that we weren't sure this trail went anywhere. So as we descended we became more and more aware of how steep the high back up would be if it just ended.
Despite these fears, we couldn't help but be in awe of our surroundings. The mountains alone were spectacular and we soon came along some of the hillside terraces, which you cannot really appreciate until you are alongside them and realize just how big they are. In fact it took us a while to realize we were even walking down them for a while until we looked back and saw what we had been traversing.
We eventually made it down successfully and got plopped right in the midst of a market. After some browsing, and a frosty beverage we took a taxi to our next stop on our way back to Cusco:Tambomachay.

Tambomachay was the first in a series of four ruins that can all be seen in a 8k hike to Cusco. You get dropped off at the furthest, Tambomachay, and hike back into town hitting all four.

That was originally our plan for the day but we lumped in Pisac too. Which was certainly worthwhile as it was amazing but it definitely made it and the next one Pukapukara, a little underwhelming.  It was still nice to see them but just did not compare to Pisac. So much so that we decided to skip Saqsayhuaman to save it for another day.

All told we probably walked close to 10 miles between all the ruins we explored.

But our day was not yet done!

A good thing about being in Peace Corps is that your siblings all treat you as the vagrant in the family and refuse to let you pay for anything. I know I should have some pride and refuse this but frankly it is nice. At least on vacation. So even though Matt couldn't come he still paid for my train to/from Macchu Pichu and the entry. He also tried paying for my hotel but I drew the line there. Now Marilyn and her Matt were treating me to dinner. And this was not like the 7 sole lunches I had been having. In fact, we went to a very highly starred restaurant in which I had probably the best meal I have had in the last year. Amazing. So much so that Marilyn has four little holes in her hand from where my tines hit when she tried taking a bite of my meal. That may or may not be true. A great bottle of Peruvian wine topped off probably my best day on the whole trip.

We did end up going to Saqsayhuaman another day but I will save that for another blog.

Until next time,


Monday, June 27, 2016

Peru Trip:every trip has its thorns.

Okay I am now going to jump out of order chronologically a little here. I find a story with one hundred happy elements and one sad ending makes the whole story sad (see Bella Can to). So I am going to jump a little to get some of the more lousy elements of the trip out of the way.

So where were we? I had just come back from Macchu Pichu and was to meet up with my sister and my brother in law. The next day we were to go to Pisac but we are going to skip right over that to the following day which was Itimi Raymi, the Incan festival celebrating winter solstice.  It was of the few things I had planned for this trip (relying on Matt and Mar for the majority of the planning).

So really no one but me is to blame for what followed.

Wow! I bet you are intrigued! This is likely to be a IG&UB blog you read to the finish. But if you do, I apologize. It isn't that exciting. But it was an annoying day that foreshadowed my day in Manaus Brazil the following week.

Okay so what happened?

First of all, does it give you some perspective when I say that eating a roasted guinea pig was the best part of my day? 

Well Itimi Raymi attracts locals as well as tourists and the square was packed with people. Which in itself would have been fine except that every exit was blocked and spectators kept piling in, getting closer and closer-in essence pushing us closer to the show. The rampant shoving and sideling (see Seinfield, sideling) made a once comfortable viewing spot anything but.

So after a while we decided to leave. Or should I say intended to leave. Because the local Peruvians would not let us. Literally. As in we tried going both through and around and those stubborn short folk (who until this day I had no issue with and actually had (probably condescending) affinity to due to their extremely short stature and their own propensity to excessively colorful outfits. It was like they all, unknowingly, were competing for the ugly sweater competition. Well apparently in addition to that competition they were also playing pack the biggest turd in  the littlest body.

Literally NO ONE who let us exit the festival. Even though this meant they would get those coveted extra few inches they had been coveting for the previous hours.

Finally I spotted a clustering of tourists (evidenced both by hair color and height) and we made a break for it.

Finally out of the thrall of people, we decided to head to the market to get away from the crowds. Or so we thought.

Instead,  after a typical wrong way Ferreira move, we eventually found the market. If there is anything that can turn around your day and restore your faith in humanity is a 5 sole meal ($1. 60). Unfortunately,  today was not our day for as we ate our cheap meal someone pickpocketed my sister.

Yep. It was that kind of day. Filled with rotten no good people.

After and partially due to the theft (Mar had to reset all her passwords), we spent the afternoon at their apartment playing trivia.  Which actually would have been the highlight if it were not for where we decided to go for dinner.

You guessed it. We went to eat cuy. Better known as guinea pig. In typical fashion thr conversation soon turned to Clark my brother's pet guinea pig . Well my brothers are not their brother's keeper and when out of sight I may make poor decisions.

So yes, the day was so poor that eating a pet that arguably had more personality than cats was the highlight.

But the blog is not over yet!!!!

Yes that day mercifully ended and the following day was significantly better. But, as the travel gods wishes, my lousy days did not end. My Sunday was predictably boring as I left my hotel at 4:45am and after three flights and a plethora of tasteless food and coffee, I finally arrived at  Manaus. Manuas the start of the Amazon river. Once a thriving town thanks to the rubber boom.

Now however the place is a dump. I was warned that several Brazilian cities were dumps and yet until Manaus , all was hyperbole. I can find something redeeming about each. And yet. Manaus seems to have very little going for it.  I'm used to going through the "bad" or "rough" parts of town while exploring but this was different. It was like the whole city was the soon to be lit trash heap.The population is terrible as it appears there are no emission regulations. If I had to make a bet, I would guess that the majority of my red blood cells hemoglobin have bound with carbon monoxide instead of oxygen. Or that is how it feels. Headache and fast fast heart rate. Yikes. But that is what's so crazy about Manaus:it is surrounded by rainforest and pristine, untouched land and yet the feel is that of desolation and wasteland in the city. This extreme juxtaposition makes the Gatlinburg/Smokey Mountains seem natural together...

I hit up every trip advisor recommendation and soon realized the inherent flaw of TA: like black diamonds at ski areas in Wisconsin it is all relative. They couldn't start their ranking at 150 could they?  Well they should have as that would still be generous. Point is: unless you plan on taking an Amazon river boat trip or actually able to get out in the jungle, THERE IS NO reason to come here. Just hop on a cheap flight or bus and get up to Boa Vista. That's the plan for tomorrow.

Just hope I'm not jinxing myself because another day here would make a day at Itmi Raymi appear lovely by contrast.

Hopefully I will have nothing exciting to write about and will soon start a new Topic-maybe this time something unrelated to me getting lost somewhere.

We will just have to wait and see...

Until next time,


PS. I am still leaning how to blog with this new app so it appears all my photos end up at the end of the blog. I suspect you can deduct where the guinea pig is as well as the worst airbnb experience I have ever had. Luckily I'm out of here tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Peru Trip: Macchu Pichu

Looking back at my favorite trips a common theme becomes evident. Self-guided wine tours and safaris, finding a nearly forgotten hot spring well off the beaten path in Iceland,  snorkeling in Caribbean waters off an isolated shore, hiking Irish trails where sheep outnumbered people 100 to 1 or family vacations where we just stayed and played.  The theme? Not being surrounded on all sides by tourists.

For examples, my least favorite part of Iceland was on the Golden Circle, Guinness brewery in Dublin, and any area near a cruise port (whether in the Caribbean, HI or Alaska).

So therefore I was coming into my time at Macchu Picchu with mixed feelings. On one hand I was uber-excited about seeing the place of Tin Tin and one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. This place has probably been on my list of must do trips the longest.  On the other hand, it is one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World and attracts millions of visitors a year. Because of its scale it is hard to see, but if you look closely at any Macchu Picchu photo and you cannot help but see hundreds of other people.
At Ollantaytambo, I was able to climb my way from the droves, would I be able to here or would I be frustrated by the masses like I was at Denali?
A note about the train. If you do go to Macchu Picchu,  you will most likely go by train. Get a seat on the left. The views along the way are gorgeous and if you take an earlier train most people are sleeping so it's like you have it to yourself.

The solitude was shattered as soon as the train stopped in St. A. There was a line to get a bus ticket and then a line so long its end was out of sight to board a bus to make the short trip to Macchu Pichu. It took us over an hour of waiting to do the 20 minute journey. It only mattered because Matt had reserved us a hike up the peaks surrounding machupichu but I needed to start it by 8. I met a girl and her mother from New Orleans, Shelby and Sarah, who also were doing so we hauled over to the gate. We got there at 8:10 but the guy let us through. This meant however we had to pass all the other people allowed on the trail. Which was a lot.

In fact it seemed unlike Ollantaytambo,  the higher I went the more people were slowly moving ahead of me. And the climb wasn't for the faint of heart with narrow trails and sheer cliffs. But this just made it more frustrating with the backjam of tourists who were clearly not prepared to do much climbing but didnt seem to have any issue with stopping where ever they pleased which made it quite unsafe.  I got up to the summit which was enveloped in clouds and slathered with tourists all sitting around for their chance to get a photo of Macchu pichu. I opted out and quickly scrambled down.
But as busy as Huacapinchu was Waynapichu was just as empty. I hiked over to the smaller peak and I had the summit to myself with considerably  better view of the ruins without feisty European pushing me to get a better view.

So my brother doesn't like heights or sleeping crappy accommodations so there were already two reasons while I wss kinda glad he couldn't come. But it was on Waynapichu that made me really appreciate him not being here. On my ascent I must have stepped on a bees nest but was stung probably two dozen times. My leg is pretty swollen and uncomfortable. But Matt is allergic and I bet you he wouldn't have brought his epi-pen. See. Everything works out for a reason.

Then I went to the Sun Gate and this where the white hairs really got annoying. First off Peruvians with authority apparently love whistles. I first noticed this with police officers in Cusco but it get annoyed by it until it became unending as the guard tried to herd the masses. Plus the ruins are massive so to keep it organized they have devised a one way traffic pattern that courses circuitously through them but creates traffic jams as everyone decides its appropriate to stop in the middle of the path for photos. I literally had a person yell at me that I was in his photo. Did I walk in front of him on the path?  No he was about 150 feet higher up and apparently I got in this way. But most people didn't seem to mind the hundreds of people that would show up on their vacation slideshows that they would make too kind friends and family sit through. Why people would want photos of other tourists taking photos was beyond me but I took a few just in case any of you really wanted to see them.

Okay so my final impression of Machupichu???

It's all about management of expectations. The Macchu Picchu of my mind was different that the one I started to learn about as I researched our trip. Originally,  was expecting a hiking destination with some ruins rather than ruins with some hikes clogged up by people who, if a motorized vehicle hadn't done more than half the work for them, would probably would just have stayed in the market depleting the world of alpaca garb. Luckily there has been enough talk of the commercialization and tourist congestion,  thay my expectations changed. So if  you go in expecting to see amazing natural scenery with some pretty good landscaping and a bunch of short but hair raising (due to the heights and sheer fall potential), then you will be pleased. I do find it pretty amazing that while other societies at this same time were building fortresses and castles, the Incans were landscaping with plethora of terraces. Granted the mountains provided some pretty good natural protection. Well at least until the gold hungry Spaniards came along.

Seriously though it is really quite impressive and even more so as you start hiking a little off the beaten path. That is because you see all the ruins that haven't been touched. Peeking through overgrowth makes you realize just how massive this place was.
So anyway, yes its worth the trip. 

Its definitely worth the trip. My recommendation would be take the train in the night before, get up early and hike to the entrance. Walk around the main ruins before the tourist lines get so long that it becomes frusrrating and then be the first one to hike Hauchupichu. When people start coming up after you, skip over quickly to Waynapichu for some solitude and maybe breakfast. Then just as the hordes of people are getting off the bus, make your way up to the Sun Gate which after a bit of a hike will afford y
ou that 
iconic Macchu Pichu picture.  All before noon. Then hike down and get a massage or dip yourself in the thermal hot springs.

Remember though,  while Macchu pichu is pretty amazing, the surrounding countryside is just as amazing. Snow capped peaks, white water rivers, a plethora of FREE hiking trails and cheap food once away from Macchu Picchu makes Peru an outdoor enthusiast's dream.

The day when I traveled to Pisac with my sister and her husband, I realized just how many other amazing ruins and landscapes there are within an easy taxi from Cusco.

But I will save that for another day. I will leave you with some pictures.

Until next time,