Saturday, May 19, 2007

Peru: Machu Picchu

Two weeks ago I got on an overnight bus ride on a winding dirt road climbing 3,000 km in altitude with vomiting passengers reeking of toilets. The bus stewardess woke us up at 6 am with The Little Mermaid at full volume in Spanish, and a few hours of Jennifer Lopez/Marc Anthony music videos later I arrived in Cuzco.

Llama admiring amazing view of Cuzco city
Cuzco is an amazing mix of Andean indigineous and Spanish colonial culture, with more hawkers per capita than any other site I've ever known. You cannot make any headway walking down the street unless chanting "no, thank you" to everyone who walks by. The population must be 50% tourists---Ravioli and I would sometimes sit in the main square and stage tourist-counting contests. There is Incan stonework all over town. We visited stone after stone in and around Cuzco everyday for a week before venturing off to see the sacred stones of Machu Picchu. I was afraid we'd be stoned out by the time we got there.

We splurged and booked a tour to Machu Picchu. The best tour is the famous Incan Trail, 4 or 5 days of gruelling hikes on multi-centuries old stone paths. Unfortunately they were booked solid until August. (If you ever want to do it, book months in advance online!) The alternative is a 5 day hike around giant Mount Salkantay, which seemed too trecherous to me. I opted for a tour of four days,
Day 1: mountain bikes downhill for 4 hours
Day 2: hiking up and down mountains for 7 hours
Day 3: walking along roads and train tracks for 7 hours, and
Day 4: hiking uphill to Machu Picchu.

As a result,
Day 1: I got groped by two villagers while trying not to hit them as they jumped in front of my bike, then one rock thrown at me by little kids, in total resulting in three cases of me pulling Ravioli away from reaming them out in Spanish.
Day 2: have you ever tried hiking 7 hours in the mountains with a sore mountain bike behind??
Day 3: I think I actually dreamed about train tracks all night.
Day 4: after a one and a half hour lung-busting climb up to Machu Picchu at 5am in the dark for the sunrise, another one and a half hour climb up the famous mountain towering over Machu Picchu then a one hour vertigo inspired descent down, another climb to an Incan bridge, and 40 pictures of llamas eating grass in various positions and angles at Machu Picchu later, we realized we spent a whopping 10 hours at the site.

10 hours admiring stones and gazing at llamas! They say that Machu Picchu emits a special energy, and I will tell you I don't know where else those 10 hours of energy could have come from. We'd have stayed longer but the last bus back into town was nearing and there was NO WAY we were going to walk back.

Top: Postcard view of Machu Picchu, Bottom: Cloudy view of Machu Picchu

Arriving back in Cuzco at 9 pm, the hotel was dark and shut. They were storing our bags (with our documents and credit cards) and we had no cash left and a bus to catch early the next morning. We sat at the doorstep for a good hour trying not to freak out. Luckily we eventually got in.

Yesterday morning we caught the news on TV, there was a terrorist attack at Juliaca, 6 dead, 50 injured. Our bus was going through Juliaca that morning on our way to Puno. As it was a direct bus to Puno, we decided it shouldn't be a problem.

While passing through Juliaca, the back tire on the bus blew out. We sat in the bus, paralized on the dusty street with hoards of customized trici-taxis whizzing past while the driver worked to fix the situation. The town was painfully dusty and unattractive, but people continued with their day-to-day mayhem and you would have never guessed a bomb had gone off in the market just the night before. I assumed the driver put on a spare tire, but later realized the bus was driving with a wheel short.

So here I am in Puno. 3,855 km up in the Altiplano, a plains area so high that your head spins every now and then for no reason. Realizing today there is nothing to do here, we compensated by riding around in moto-taxis, a bici-taxi, and paddling a giant swan around Lake Titicaca. This picture of Ravioli on the bici-taxi cracks me up.

Thanks for your votes on Peru, Ravioli had a good laugh!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Peru: Lima to Nazca

Peru! I didn't know what to expect. Andean flutists? Llamas? Pickpockets?? All I knew was that Cesar (a.k.a. Ravioli) was waiting for me, and I would get a break from thinking for myself for awhile. Cesar is originally from Peru, so he was going to plan everything, protect me from the man. The day he arrived in Lima after 6 years absense, I got a funny e-mail (I was still in Panama at the time)---my Peruvian guide was experiencing some serious culture shock! Luckily he was able to turn back into a real LimeƱo (man from Lima) by the time I arrived, haggling with taxi drivers, shooing away hawkers, chatting up shop clerks.

We met up with our old Japan buddies Tara and Loli and had drinks (lots of them) and a sleepover at their apartment just like old times. It was hard to believe that we were all in Peru! Congratulations, guys, on your soon-to-be wedding!!!!

Then we took a bus south to Pisco, the legendary city of Peru's famous grape-derived "pisco" alcohol, and no, as Ravioli emphasises, it is not from Chile. Pisco sours are the BEST, if you ever get the chance to try one, I highly recommend it!

The entire southern coast of Peru is pure desert, with huge sand dunes left over from the times before the Andes mountains pushed the land up out of the ocean. We took a boat tour to the nearby Islas Ballestas (the "poor man's Galapagos") for millions of stinky marine birds and floppy sea lions, and then to Nasca, home of the mysterious Nasca lines carved into the desert rock.

The Nascas lived in Peru from 1000BC to about 800AC, and left these incredible pictures and lines all over the landscape. The lines are perfectly straight and run for miles, and there are also giant hyroglyphs that span acres of land. Noone really knows what the lines were for, and how they made them so straight. Ravioli and I are both strong supporters of the communication-with-aliens theory. I sent Ravioli onto one of the 4-seater tin-can airplane tours to take lots of pictures for my blog, as I'm sure I'd have been crying in mortal fear the entire flight. There are tons more lines pictures in the Lima-Nasca photos, check them out! (along with new pics from Costa Rica and Panama)

I put up a new poll, would love to see your votes! I want to show Ravioli what everyone thinks of Peru, he he.

At the moment I'm high up in the mountains (3,300km/10,000ft in altitude) in Cuzco. We're off to Machu Picchu on mountain bikes as soon as we get used to the altitude. More on that next time!