We did it! Machu Picchu!!
But more on that in a moment.
I just remembered how much I dislike being cold.
Yes, I grew up in Virginia and withstood the blizzard of ’96.
Yes, I went to college in New Jersey and lived with minimal heating on a budget.
But, still, I don’t like to be cold. I’m sure my parents kept us warm in VA with fires, wood-burning stoves, and central heating, and in college I spent a lot of time at work, in the library, or, inevitably, reading or writing papers under my covers.
Here in Cusco, the weather vacillates between about 57 degrees at night, in the mornings, and in the shaded areas that never get sun, to blazing sunshine and sunburn at 75 degrees. That is quite a change, and our hostel doesn’t have any form of heating whatsoever. Bedtime is good because we get 2 alpaca blankets, a sheet, and a down comforter. Evenings are hard because the sun leaves our corner of the mountain around 5:00pm, making for a very cold and cranky Caitlin by dinnertime.
Luckily, Zac lets me wear his awesome hat. It’s very helpful.
Now, it’s really hard to go through two seasons in one day, but you manage. We are enjoying our time in Cusco, and I think this might be Zac’s favorite city so far. I prefer Arequipa, but I couldn’t really tell you why. Maybe it’s the weather.
We arrived early (again) after an overnight bus ride from Arequipa, and settled into our hostel with a “big hill to climb,” according to the hostel’s online reviews. Hah! A big hill to climb? It’s Cusco, of course you have a hill to climb. And then, oh wait…
Yeah, okay, that’s a big hill to climb. We like it though. It makes us plan our trips a little better since we don’t want to climb it 10 times a day, but it also gives us a little exercise to help us get used to the altitude. We normally take a break halfway through, hoping our hearts don’t burst from the exertion.
When I signed into my Gmail on day 1, I found an email from Cusco Cooking stating that we could join the 5:30pm cooking class with the menu I wanted. Excellent! We ate breakfast and relaxed a bit, then realized that I left my incredibly expensive Apple Macbook charger in Arequipa (#F&@$*&^&*@*$K) so we headed into the more dangerous/local part of town to find a copycat version. (Thanks, APPLE.) $70 later, I had a fake charger and we’d seen more of Cusco than most tourists ever would. We also enjoyed a $1.50 lunch for two. Can’t beat that!
Anyway, the charger has already paid for itself in online work, and the cooking class was excellent fun! We made Crema de Choclo (cream of corn soup), Lomo Saltado (um, a stir-fry like chinese-peruvian beef dish with french fries), Pisco Sours (the Peruvian way!), and enjoyed chocolate fondue (I ate mine and 50% of Zac’s! oops!).
On Friday the 13th, we hit up good ol’ Machu Picchu for the day, which was absolutely amazing! This is how you get to Machu Picchu from Cusco:
- 25 Minute Taxi to Poray Peru Rail station ($11)
- 3 Hour train to Aguas Calientes ($68 one-way)
- 25 minute bus to Machu Picchu ($10 one-way)
That’s like 4 hours and $89 from Cusco (one-way), the closest major city, before paying the entrance fee. Taking the train was inevitable, since we decided not to do a trek, but if you don’t want to take the bus, you can hike up a series of staircases and a dusty road and sweat your way to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. This, of course, we did, and it was excellent. It took about an hour and 10 pounds of sweat, but it was nothing compared to Colca Canyon! To arrive at MP after that much work makes it a much more desirable destination, and to anyone with the physical fitness and time flexibility, I recommend it: TAKE THE STAIRS.
Just like climbing The Great Wall and hiking part of Mount Fuji, Machu PIcchu is just one of those things that’s way better than you expect. Walking through the ruins makes you feel like you’re back in 4th grade learning about the local Native Americans’ ingenious ways of living. Except that you’re 26, and what have you done with your life?
We took the half-mile walk to the Inca Bridge, which was built into a cliff face, and used to be a secret entrance to MP for the Inca Army! We enjoyed our lunch of peanut butter-banana sandwiches on the grass (shhh, I’m not sure you’re supposed to bring food into MP), then hiked a mile to the Sun Gate.
The Sun Gate is the end of the Inca Trail.
This is where you will find an amazing view of Machu Picchu, and one of the reasons why people pay big bucks to take the Inca Trail 5-day hike over trekking the other trails. It is really an amazing view. There’s something about being there that makes you feel closer to history, and closer to something amazing, even though we’re just a couple of 20-something American tourists…and the Incans had their fair share of corruption and chaos.
We walked a total of 5-6 miles, at least half of it up hills, so we were pretty tired by the time we got to the main ruins of MP, but even that was awesome! There are a few huts that are recreated versions of what the empire previously looked like, and it seems like the rooms were rather large. No one knows for sure what purpose Machu Picchu served: either as solely an estate for Inca royalty, or possibly as an agricultural station.
Common knowledge tells us that the American Hiram Bingham discovered this “Lost Empire,” but we heard a tour guide say that plenty of people knew about it long before HB arrived, just that Bingham brought major international attention and hoards of tourists. Before we go coronating Bingham as a finder of this amazing attraction, we should remember that he took a good 40,000 artifacts and mummies from the site before he helped MP gain historical acclaim and significance. Typical American.
After a long day, we consumed well-deserved Alpaca Montana and Peruvian-ish Steak Tacos while we waited, um, 4 hours for our train.
After MP, we didn’t have much to look forward to in Cusco, except for the 7am-5pm sunshine in our hostel’s courtyard. So, we spent a lot of time working, reading in partial sunlight, and exploring the local restaurants and markets a little more off the beaten path. (And stealing Zac’s hat.)
On Sunday there was this parade/festival which recognized the Incan tradition of initiating boys into adulthood. Hundreds of boys from the schools dressed in Incan garb and traveled around the squares and up to the high ruins of Cusco – Sacsayhuaman. (Sounds like “socks-eye-waman.”) It was pretty interesting. There’s alway something going on in the square – festivals, parades, protests (against immigration), and car shows. At least it’s exciting!
You might know that a delicacy of the Andes is guinea pig – yes, that somewhat cute rodent. We finally got the chance to try it, and decided we have no clue what all the fuss is about. There isn’t much meat to be had, and it is served with claws and all. We had a half of a guinea pig at the Sunday plaza market. Glad we tried it though!
On Monday, we finally had time to attend the free walking tour of Cusco, which we’d been planning to do since day 1 (but for my macbook-related forgetfulness). It’s great that it’s free and all, but THREE HOURS? These walking tours are getting a little ridiculous. Cusco is a city rich in culture, history, traditions, and tourism, so it was time for us to actually learn a little more about this European-looking mountain town. We ended up joining the tour an hour late and peeling off 30 minutes early. Oops!
When we left the tour group, we walked up yet another gigantic hill to see the Sacsayhuaman ruins, and take in a view of the entire city. It was pretty great!
And now we’re taking yet another overnight bus to Puno, where we’ll spend two days on Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world! This will be our highest altitude point of the trip, so I’m crossing my fingers for no ill effects. It’s going to be SO COLD. But worth it, I hope! No Internet for the next couple of days, so maybe we’ll be forced to relax or something. After Puno we’ll slowly make our way back to Lima and then up the coast to Mancora. Later!