Monthly Archives: November 2012

Machu Picchu, Peru

History lesson: Why is Machu Picchu such a big deal? It’s a big deal because it was basically the only Inca site that wasn’t ever found/damaged by the Spanish and is therefore much more intact. It was “discovered” by non-locals in 1911, so they were wrapping up the 100 year anniversary while we were there.

We knew we’d get the best pictures if we took the first bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu in the morning, so we lined up in the rain at 5:30 to ride the 3.7 switchbacked miles up. Along the way, we passed several extremely miserable-looking people walking up. Although the walk is strenuous, it looked horrible in the rain. Several people tried in vain to flag down the bus, which seems to stop for no one.

When we arrived, hoping to grab that iconic postcard photo before the throngs of tourists descended into the ruins, we were disappointed to be able to see only part of the clouded site.

As we proceeded through the day, the fog gradually lifted, revealing the unbelievable sight before us.

Temple of the Sun – look at that construction!:

Several llamas make their homes at Machu Picchu.

How did they move that huge rock??

When we arrived in Aguas Calientes the day before, we went immediately to the ticket office to pay for our Machu Picchu reservations. Somehow, the man couldn’t find our reservations, which had included a hike up Huayna Picchu. We were SO thankful we weren’t there in the high season, because there is no way we would have gotten tickets. When we got a new reservation, we were unable to hike Huayna Picchu, but we did get tickets to hike up Cerro Machu Picchu, which has a view of Huayna Picchu. Cerro Machu Picchu is a hike straight up about a million stairs, which are actual stairs the Incas used to gain the top of the mountain. The bronchitis I mentioned in an earlier post made this hike very uncomfortable for me, but I finally finished.

From the top, after I recovered enough to muster a smile. Look for tiny Machu Picchu down below.

And finally, our most grand view of Machu Picchu:



Aguas Calientes, Peru

Augas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu, an expensive train/bus ride away from Cusco. We took a car that had windows in the roof so you can get a better view of the surrounding terrain, including some ruins and terraces.

While in Aguas, we attempted a hike up Putucusi, but were turned away because the crucial ladders near the beginning had been washed out.  However, we were able to pick up an unfortunate amount of trash along the way and gain this nice view of the town and the raging Urubamba River. We were also reminded of the misery of hiking in extreme humidity, which I made sure to complain about during the 20 minutes or so we actually got to hike.

Because we wanted to get to Machu Picchu early in the morning, we needed to spend a night in Aguas. We stayed at Gringo Bill’s and enjoyed a nice meal in the surprisingly deserted Tree House restaurant. At the Tree House, we decided to go for it: trying the traditional Peruvian delicacy of “cuy” (prounounced ‘quee’). It’s guinea pig if you didn’t know. We found it a bit greasy but were glad we tried it, despite the obviously non-traditional presentation.

Sacred Valley, Peru

While in Cusco, we took a tour of the Sacred Valley to see more Inca sites. Unfortunately our tour guide was absolutely horrible, making the day long and miserable. Luckily the price was worth the bus trip alone, as it would be extremely difficult to see all these sites without an organized tour.

We began the day at a tourist-trap handicraft market featuring fake alpaca items among other things. We then moved to the Pisaq ruins, which featured terraces formerly used for farming, hillside tombs that had been unfortunately raided, and village ruins.

Below the ruins is the current village of Pisaq which has a regionally famous market (especially with tourists from Cusco). It was raining the day we went, but we were able to see most of it anyway. The picture below is an example of the ubiquitous handicraft stall, found literally everywhere in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Aguas Calientes.

This lady is in her regular clothes, as far as we know. This isn’t the pay for picture costume!

We then went to lunch at a place that had a buffet, tons of tourists, and the animals below. It was a strange and beautiful place, but it provided a much-needed break from our tour guide.

After lunch, we traveled on to Ollantaytambo, another Inca town, where our guide proceeded to over-pronounce the name dozens of times, just to make sure we knew what it was called. To add insult to injury, at this site we couldn’t help our longing as we were near the great tour guide we had the day before while he led a Spanish-speaking group this day. I do think the ruins at Ollantaytambo were the most interesting on on the tour.

We finished our tour in Chinchero, where we watched a demonstration by girls in traditional costume about how to dye wool. I bought a scarf at their dimly lit market after they made such a big deal about everything being alpaca. When I got it out later, in full light, I noticed the telltale shiny threads of acrylic. At least I wondered how they could sell it for a good price if it was really alpaca!



Cusco, Peru

Oh Cusco, the land of handicrafts. By the time we left, I thought I’d die if I was offered another handicraft (I’ll have a picture of handicrafts in the next post).

We stayed at the Hotel Rumi Punku, which had nice rooms and a beautiful courtyard. With the exception of one weird interaction with a staff member regarding a dinner reservation, our stay there was great. We stayed before and after our visit to Machu Picchu, and they let us keep extra luggage there as well as pay for both stays at the end.

While in Cusco, we inquired about a city tour and took the one our hotel recommended. We had a fabulous tour guide and really enjoyed it. The tour was a great way to get slightly outside the city easily to see sites such as Sacsayhuamán.

We started in the city center at the Cusco Cathedral (you can’t take pictures inside):

Next, we walked to the Qorikancha, a temple from the Inca Empire. Inca construction is full of super smooth, perfectly interlocking stones, as seen below at the Temple of the Sun, the most important place in the Qorikancha.

We then moved to the outskirts of the city to see Sacsayhuamán, the former capital of the Inca empire, which featured more amazing stone work.

There was a beautiful overlook of Cusco at Sacsayhuaman:

At Sacsayhuaman was a common site – woman with llama dressed in traditional costume who asks you for $5 after you take your picture with her. We knew this and captured this picture from far away. I fully intended to go for it and pay for a picture at some point, but we somehow never got around to it.

We continued on to Qenqo, Tambomachay, and Pukapukara. While at Pukapukara, I snagged some “cholo con queso” which is an ear of huge-kerneled corn with a piece of cheese. It seems to be a popular street food, so we went for it. Mmm…

Finally we ended the tour at an expensive shop featuring alpaca fur items.



After a money-saving but sleepless night in the Punta Arenas airport, we began our journey to Peru. We flew from P.A. to Santiago, touching down in Puerto Montt along the way. As we flew, we saw many volcanoes out the plane window! We then flew from Santiago to Lima. The flight arrives too late in Lima to fly to Cusco, so we had to wait a night.

We were swindled into a rip-off taxi and made our way to the only reasonable hotel we could find that wasn’t an hour away from the airport. The taxi driver made the trip take much longer than necessary, with his “value-added” site-seeing. As we drove, I was alarmed at the fumes coming in the car. Apparently Lima has the worst pollution of the South American capitals, and I developed a lovely case of bronchitis that day that would linger through the rest of our trip.

We finally arrived at a special place, the Hotel Gran Mundo. Through an adjoining door to the right was a casino. Through an adjoining door to the left was a Chinese/Peruvian restaurant. We ate there, as it was the only place around, but the experience was much more memorable than the food. I found out later that “chifa” is a style of food that is a mix of Chinese and Peruvian, a relic of immigration from 100 years ago resulting from the lack of availability of Chinese ingredients in Peru.

Thus began our time in Peru, followed by a flight the next morning to Cusco.

Here’s the lobby of the Hotel Gran Mundo. From left to right: Chinese calendar (?) and urn, stuffed deer with fake tree, casino games. Awesome.