Machu Picchu at last!

Shack along raging river in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu

Instead of reiterating hundreds of travel blogs out there with the history of Machu Picchu, I will regale you with a photo essay. Taking photos throughout our trip has been one of our favourite activities. Both Jay and I love to compose photos and this trip has been a great learning experience for what works and what doesn't. We have thousands of photos and hundreds that didn't turn out. I'm sure some photography classes are in our near future! We got lucky and lots did turn out so here you are: Machu Picchu at last!

Colourful buildings in Aguas Calientes

Men at work along the railway to Aguas Calientes (note the raging river below)

Finally! Macchu Picchu!

I love the sky in this shot but couldn't get rid of the tourist's elbow without cropping the photo to death

Jay poking his head in where it doesn't belong

that's better!

 it was a hot, sunny day...and then it wasn't anymore

the fog really started rolling in so that we had our heads in the clouds :)

I obviously loved that little house

...and then it was sunny again...you can see all the details clearly

the intricate building blocks used in buildings of importance

Agricultural terraces at Machu Picchu

the Inca's just built around the mountain, no need to blast it with dynamite!

I let Jay take a few shots and this is what he came up with ;p

 Jay hugging Intihuatana as requested by his father

Isn't it incredible?
Every blog post needs an "awwww" moment...

Those Incas, showing off their building prowess again!

Looking out into cloud forest

The views were spectacular!

I hope you enjoyed our RTW trip...we sure did! The next few posts will be our arrival back in North America and our smorgasbord of fun with friends in California. And then I might get around to telling you about coming home and what we are up to these days.



Cusco and the Sacred Valley of Peru

The Cathedral in Plaza des Armas, Cusco, Peru

I had no concept of Cusco as a place or city before we arrived. I only really knew I wanted to go because that's how you get to Machu Picchu. And who doesn't want to go there?

We left Nazca just after midnight, about an hour late, for our longest bus ride to date. The ride that was supposed to take 16 hours actually took closer to 18 with only one stop around noon the following morning. The bus ticket that we purchased promised food, air conditioning and a toilet on board and although first class was sold out, second class was quite comfortable. Since we'd started the journey late at night I wasn't expecting any food until morning. On previous shorter rides, with the same bus company, breakfast usually consisted of a pastry and a square of quiche-like food. On this ride we got a pastry and tea or coffee. Okaaaay...we hadn't eaten since 7 pm the night before so this breakfast was not very satisfying. Maybe lunch will be better...I thought to myself.

When we stopped at noon for 20 minutes everyone got off the bus and trotted off to the washrooms. I saw several people sucking on popsicles and a few munching on chips. Jason and I walked towards the hillside and took pictures of the luscious green mountains that surrounded us. This was the first inkling that I had that Cusco would be different than the desert-ish coast of the rest of our Peruvian experience. We bought some popsicles and hopped back on the bus thinking that lunch was just a few minutes from being served and Cusco only 4 hours away.

6 hours, 6 starving minutes later, we arrived in Cusco. One would think that after all the time we have spent on buses and after all the times we've been stuck with no food, one of those times would have taught us to be prepared...not to assume based on other experiences. And then the hunt for a place to stay started. The room that we had booked was no longer available even though we had confirmed via email but the owner had not confirmed back to us. When we arrived the receptionist was flustered and embarrassed but came through for us by finding us another room nearby.

As we walked from the second cab to the second hostel I remarked to Jay that I wasn't feeling the altitude. I was a bit short of breath but we were hauling our backpacks so that was pretty normal. For some reason the altitude didn't really hit either of us until later that night. As I was lying in bed on my back I couldn't breathe. I rolled to my side and still had a hard time getting air in. I didn't panic but it was a strange feeling. Eventually I fell asleep. Jay's altitude sickness hit him in the gut so I won't go into details there. We saw what we could walk to in town while battling fatigue and upset stomachs and once the altitude sickness passed we ventured out to see some of the Sacred Valley. We had 5 days in Cusco to explore before our bus and train trip to Machu Picchu.

Part of exploring any place for us has been taking photographs as we discover views, buildings, people and street scenes we find interesting. Somewhere between Huacachina and Nazca the lens on our Nikon D60 DSLR snapped off the body. Part of our discovering Cusco was trying to find a reputable repair shop. Luckily after a few attempts we found a place that was able to temporarily affix the necessary mount in place just in time for our Machu Picchu day. The photos in this post were all taken with our back up point and shoot camera.

Typical morning in the streets of Cusco

Cobblestone street in Cusco

Viva el Peru Glorioso - Long live the glorious Peru

View from Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)

Vendors in street market, Cusco

We took a day tour that took us by minivan to three historic sites, which included Pisac (or Pisaq), Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. On our way we stopped at a small market at the side of the road where I met a woman weaving pieces of cloth from cotton. I purchased a piece from her and she agreed to pose for a few pictures for me. Pisac is well known for its Sunday market but we were there to see the ruins. The Pisac ruins are the remnants of a citadel that was once on an important Inca route. The views are spectacular as you look over the agricultural terraces and climb to the intricately built Sun Temple.

Peruvian woman demonstrating how to weave with cotton (coloured with natural dyes)

Ruins at Pisac, Peru

Agricultural terraces at Pisac

After hiking around the ruins for a couple of hours at Pisac we moved on to Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo looks like a really cute town but unfortunately, as it is with tours, we didn't get a chance to walk through it. The town is built on Inca foundations so much of the layout remains as in the times of the Incas. It is also the start of many of the Inca Trail expeditions so the town is quite tourist oriented. Our focus for the tour were the ruins that climbed the towering hillside next to the town's marketplace.

Looking up the terraces of the Ollantaytambo ruins

The Wiracochan Face & Inca storehouses found on Pinkalluna,
a hill above the town of Ollantaytambo

Wall structure of the Incas that fit together like a puzzle, Ollantaytambo

The last stop of our tour was late in the day and it was already getting dark by the time we reached Chinchero. None of our photos turned out but what we saw was a Spanish church built on top of Inca ruins. We were tired and hungry by then so I'm not sure if we would have gotten any more out the visit even if there had been daylight. Many of the streets were lined with shops and vendors lay out their wares on the grass near the site and they stayed open until the last tour bus left for the day.

We quite enjoyed Cusco despite the altitude sickness, the camera fiasco and Jay's pocket being picked in the street market. There is definitely more to Cusco than Machu Picchu and I hope that one day I'll be back to discover it all over again.



all the stuff between Lima and Cusco

Well, our friendly and helpful hostel owner, Ricardo, in Lima helped us plan our in-between time from Lima to Cusco. We were in Lima at the end of March and Machu Picchu didn't open to the public until April 1st. Machu Picchu had been closed since January due to uncharacteristically heavy rains caused rivers to swell and sides of mountains to slide. The mudslide actually took out a huge chunk of the railway from Cusco to Aquas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu (more about that in another post). In any case, we were only able to obtain train tickets to MP for April 6th so we had about a week to kill before we wanted to be in Cusco.

Ricardo suggested we take a bus to Cusco (22 hours from Lima) but to break it up over a few days. We changed few things on his recommended itinerary and the things we did change we regretted later. The first stop on our itinerary was to go to the coastal town of Paracas. We were advised to only stay one night, take a tour of the islands and then head to Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of the desert.

In our experience, staying anywhere for only one night is a waste so we ignored this piece of advice. Even though the ride from Lima to Paracas was only 4 hours we would arrive to the town late in the day. We didn't want to take a tour of the islands and then hop on a bus to Huacachina because that would leave little time in the actual town of Paracas. Turns out, that is all you need. AND we decided not to take the tour of the islands. I'm not really sure why that is now that I'm home and trying to remember the details but I'm pretty sure it was all about the money.

So instead we lazed around the hotel, walked the boardwalk, cruised the main strip and wished we could go swimming in the ocean. I suppose we could have gone swimming but we would have been surrounded by giant maroon-coloured jelly fish with their long squishy tendrils swirling dangerously close. Plus the stench of the seaweed was so overwhelming that at points during our walks I had to pull my shirt-collar over my nose.

A pelican who doesn't mind the seaweed stench

Birds, birds and more birds on the coast of Peru near Paracas

Huacachina was thankfully a much more pleasant place to be, an oasis if you will. Our hostel/hotel had a pool, a couple of parrots and a macaw and though the village was tiny, there were vegetarian options everywhere. Huacachina is just over a sand dune from the city of Ica. One minute you are driving through the crazy, scooter filled streets of Ica and the next you are cruising down the dune to sun, fun and relaxation. The oasis is a natural body of water snuggled between towering sand dunes on all sides. The purpose of the village is to cater to Peruvian and foreign tourists that flock to the area to enjoy sand-boarding, dune buggy rides and swimming. The only establishments around the oasis are hotels, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. On more than one occasion we came across people buried up to their necks in sand despite the 35+ degree temperature.

The oasis, Huachachina

Bizarre behavior in Huacachina's dunes

Thankfully, we'd learned our lesson and followed Ricardo's advice exactly for our next stop, Nazca. The town itself really isn't a place you want to spend much time in. In fact the 9 hours we had there was too much time. We met a couple of American girls as we got off the bus in Nazca who had planned to fly over the Nazca lines. Since we hadn't pre-booked anything we decided to tag along with them and see if Jay could join them. I wasn't interested in flying in a tiny 6-seater plane because a) my ears don't adjust to the air pressure changes in a big plane never mind a puddle-jumper like this and b) I'm not stupid. Jay on the other hand...took these shots:

Can you spot The Hands? Maybe a Huarango Tree?

There's a spider in among these lines...

The magnificent Condor

How did they know about The Spaceman? mysterious...

Bird's eye view

After the flights we all hopped back into the minivan and were transported back to the bus station. With another 5 hours for us and 3 hours for Shirley and Erin before our buses arrived we ventured into the town centre for some grub. Of course we just had to imbibe in the favourite local beverage, the Pisco Sour, to brace ourselves for our 16 hour overnight bus journey to Cusco.