Peru!

It’s been almost two full weeks since I stood atop Machu Picchu, one of the destinations high on my bucket list.

IMG_3820Getting to see the ruins was incredible, and I will probably be overloading this post with pictures. I frequently found myself stopping and starting in awe…and then up came the camera and *snap*! Tried my best to preserve the sights before me.

Although Machu Picchu was the highlight, there were many memorable things about the trip and visiting Peru. I knew I would want to go while I was in South America, but I had no real plans as to when. Tiaan, the Australian girl I mentioned in one of my previous posts, has easily become one of my better friends down here. The first day we hung out, she was already mentioning to me the idea of going to Machu Picchu together. When you’re a foreigner in a new place or traveling, you tend to make friends rather quickly, especially with other extranjeros, so this suggestion didn’t sound completely crazy. Nonetheless, I still didn’t expect that not even a month later we’d be booking flights and looking up hostels!

My flight arrived in Cusco a couple hours before Tiaan’s and there really wasn’t much to do at the airport, so I grabbed a taxi and headed to the hostel. This is when I first started to notice the difference between Chilean Spanish and Peruvian Spanish. I’ve been told several times that Chile is the worst place to learn Spanish because of how difficult it is, but now I’ve seen the difference for myself! Speaking in Peru was a big confidence booster, as I could actually carry myself through a conversation or exchange without looking completely lost.

My first Spanish conversation was with my taxi driver, and it proved to be rather interesting. He first asked, “Cuánto tiempo estás en Cusco?” and “Cuál es tú país?” to which I gave the simple responses: “seis días” and “estados unidos”. Just then he complimented my Spanish, which was flattering, but then again…I’d only uttered a handful of syllables…

His next question was, “Eres soltera o casada?” (single or married) And then, “Con novio o sin novio?” (boyfriend or no boyfriend) This was my taxi driver, and this was the beginning of our conversation. I found out, however, that Peruvians may be forward in a very different way from Chileans. In Chile, you will get catcalls and whistles as you’re walking down the street. In Peru, they don’t make their affections so public, but they will ask you very personal questions within seconds of meeting you. “Are you in love?” (asked by a hostel employee) “Do you have a boyfriend?” etc. One guy selling postcards at the top of Machu Picchu told me it was alright when I was one coin short to buy them, and then tried to convince me to make up the difference with a kiss on the cheek. This was at the end of my trekking when I was sweaty, gross, and hair was a mess, but he proceeded to remark on how beautiful he found me. It’s flattering, but too much!

Once Tiaan got to the hostel, our first order of business was to buy a LOT of water. We were in high altitude our entire time in Peru, and we basically took turns fighting off the onset of altitude sickness. It’s amazing how difficult it is to breathe after just walking up a few stairs (and the whole city is made up of hills and stairs, mind you). Thankfully, we had water on our hands to turn to when a headache came on, and we made it in and out relatively unscathed.

Exploring some of the city and the main square (plaza de armas) of Cusco that night was a nice treat, and we both quickly decided we were going to love Peru.IMG_3601 IMG_3606 IMG_3607

I loved the way the hills beyond the square lit up at night with all their lights!

Our hostel hosted a dinner of lomo saltado, and it was delicious. We also had to wash it down with some Peruvian pisco sours, which are served in much bigger glasses than in Chile!

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I really like our hostel in Cusco, by the way. It’s located in a renovated colonial mansion, so it definitely has a unique vibe. There are travel quotes posted everywhere, and the kitchen is in the courtyard, right next to the fire pit!

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Hey! I have the same quote on my blog!

Our second day in Cusco we took a walking tour and mapped out our transportation plans to and from Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

We walked through a market where we saw proof of how they make use of every part of the animal.

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I have a braver stomach than I thought.

We also got some great views of Cusco:

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Fun little fact: As we were on our walking tour, we discovered there was a protest in the making. A large number of people marched the streets with banners and signs proclaiming their desire to change the ownership of Machu Picchu and its visiting rights. Basically, they don’t want foreigners coming to see the sight.

Awkward…

Our tour guide was Peruvian and shared his opinion on how the whole idea was very stupid, because Peru would then lose a bunch of money. We had to leave our walk through the market early and shove our way through the growing crowd. All to lose our breath climbing up more steps. But the view was worth it.IMG_3627

We made it a point that afternoon to find our way into this little cafe that had balconies overlooking the main plaza. It was nice to be able to order some real coffee again and sit out on the pretty blue balcony!

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Getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes seemed to be an adventure in itself. We had  purchased tickets for the cheapest train, which was two hours out of the city. The lady at the train ticket office gave us directions to the bus station and told us one would leave every 10 minutes or so. Thankfully, we overheard some other people the night before talking about how those “buses” usually don’t leave until they’re full. We decided to check out of our hostel early enough for some breathing room, just in case.

The hostel called a cab for us, and our driver was very cheery and anxious for conversation. Tiaan and I laugh at the irony that our Spanish levels are pretty much exactly the same, so we were pretty comfortable trying out our conversation skills in front of each other. Most of what was said in that cab was easy enough to understand and we were beginning to feel confident with the language. That silly driver kept remarking “chicas lindas” and “bonitas” after almost every response one of us would give. We finally pulled up just across the street from the station, and then came one of the most interesting moments of the trip.

Almost immediately after our taxi stopped, two men came and stuck their heads in the driver and passenger side windows. They rested forward on folded arms, and intently observed the exchange between us and our driver. The driver turned around just after stopping, ignoring the men with their heads in the windows, and said something to us in Spanish that neither Tiaan nor I understood. He had to repeat himself a few times, explain his thoughts in different ways, and as we didn’t know what he was getting at, we weren’t sure if we could leave yet. The situation got very uncomfortable with the language barrier and the extra observers, and we fumbled our way through it very poorly. Finally, we understood that our driver wanted to pick us up at the TRAIN station two hours out of town when we returned, and was telling us his discounted (but still unnecessarily expensive) price. We politely declined, as the bus transportation was infinitely cheaper. As soon as that was settled, our doors were opened and our suitcases were grabbed (maybe by the same men with their heads in the windows? I was still befuddled by the horribly awkward Spanish conversation) and thrown into the back of a large van at the station.

“Adónde vas?” we asked the driver, and he somehow knew where we wanted to go, exclaiming, “Ollantaytambo!” Well, ok then! We settled inside the van (not quite a bus) and finally laughed about everything that had just happened. About 45 minutes later, the van was finally full and we were on our way!

Driving in Peru is very bumpy, and I’m amazed at how the big buses do it on narrow, winding roads, but the views are amazing. It’s almost always disappointing to try and get a good picture from inside a moving vehicle though, so I didn’t even try.

We made it to Ollantaytambo and had time for a quick cup of coffee (but more importantly, taking advantage of the cafe’s bathroom) with a couple other girls from Texas we met on the van. We had been dropped off in the small town’s main square and had been given vague directions as to where to find the train. After asking a couple locals, we hauled our suitcases along the 15 minutes walk and finally found the crowded train station. It felt like a human funnel getting up to the front to show your ticket and be let through. Once we were on the train we were so thankful that we had made it!

Getting off the train in Aguas Calientes threw us into another huge crowd, making it hard to move and confusing as to where we should go. In the middle of the chaos, a man to my right shoved a camera in my face (looked like a professional camera!) and said, “Hola!”
“Hola…” I replied, thinking what the heck?? He turned it to Tiaan and then disappeared. So strange..

Almost the entirety of the town is uphill from the train station (remember we’re in high altitude!), and Tiaan and I began pushing ourselves against the will of our lungs to try and find our hostel. For one brief moment, she went inside a small market to ask for directions while I waited outside with the suitcases. Just before she came out, I happened to look down and notice that the exposed part of my legs (I was wearing capri style leggings) were COVERED in little black bugs that I assumed were mosquitoes. I jumped and shrieked and slapped and we soon were moving again, but that one moment of standing still earned me at least 30 bites all below the knees. The rest of our time there I wore pants and was sure to equip myself with bug spray, but my legs even now look like they’ve been pricked a hundred times. Since the bites are small and look different from the average mosquito bite, I looked it up and found out sandflies may have actually been the culprit. Whatever it is, be on the alert if you go! I saw plenty of girls wearing shorts at Machu Picchu revealing polka dotted legs!

Grabbing a bit of authentic Peruvian food and exploring the small town was next on our agenda.IMG_3632IMG_3634 IMG_3638

We could hardly contain our excitement that we would be at Machu Picchu the next day!! In fact, with the town having little to offer besides shops and restaurants, we turned in really early (almost embarrassingly early) and set our alarms for 4am.

When our phones went off at 4:00, Tiaan had a surprising amount of energy and seemed to be hopping all about the room. I, on the other hand, was very sluggish and slow to wake up. We had to have everything packed and stored in the luggage room by 5, which was the time our breakfast was scheduled to come to our room. It was nice to have a more “hotel” styled hostel, with our own private room and bathroom. The shower in that bathroom, however, was the worst. The only two temperatures were freezing or scalding, so I’m glad we were only there one night! The people who worked there only spoke Spanish and were SO nice. In fact, most of the Peruvians I met were really nice and helpful. We were in high tourist areas though, so there’s that to consider.

By 5:15 after choking down a breakfast we were lining up for the buses and all bundled up in several layers! It was a really chilly morning. The first bus leaves at 5:30 every day, and I think we made it on the third bus that morning, thankfully. So just after 6am, we were making our way through the ticket line to enter into Machu Picchu!

MACHU PICCHU!!!

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The new light of the early morning and the long shadows made for some breathtaking scenery! We also had the chance to explore a little before the big crowds of midday came in. At 7, (and we couldn’t believe it was only 7 am!) we made our way to the base of Montaña Machu Picchu. We had no idea what a hike we were in for! (Remember, the altitude)

Most of the path before us looked like this:

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It was always up, up, up for more than an hour. But whenever we stopped to take a break and look back at the ruins…worth it.

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And finally reaching the top!

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That says 3,061 m.IMG_3715IMG_3720

You might notice my layers changing in these pictures. At the start of the day and at the top of the mountain, it was rather chilly! All that climbing, however, had us sweating.

Here’s some more pictures just because:)

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The whole experience was phenomenal. And completely draining. After all the steep hikes, my body just couldn’t push itself any longer. We needed food…we needed more energy. We had even been really ambitious the day before when purchasing our bus tickets and had decided we would hike back down to Aguas Calientes. Maybe we are just out of shape, but we quickly changed our minds when we decided to head back and bought more tickets. My legs hurt for days after this, but it was the good kind of hurting. It makes me want to hike up a mountain every weekend! (And I really have been for a few weeks…or at least some steep hills)

That night we headed back to Cusco, and I was tired enough to sleep on the bumpy train. We looked for another bus, or “conectivo”, stepping off the train in Ollantaytambo. This process looked like dozens of guys getting in your face just off the platform saying, “Señorita! Taxi?” until we were finally presented with “conectivo a Cusco”. Grateful to have found our cheap ride, we followed him to the vehicle, which I assumed would look just like the nice van we had taken the day before.

Nope.

This car was more like a suburban, much smaller, and I somehow ended up getting sandwiched in the middle seat between Tiaan and a Peruvian man, all of us with backpacks settled between our legs on the floor. This was two hours of being squished with no headrest late at night after climbing a mountain. Catching some sleep was an unattainable dream. You really never know what to expect in South America.

The good news is our driver dropped us off right in front of our hostel. We showered and dropped into bed, knowing the next day would be an early one as well. We were taking a tour to see some other ruins starting at 8am.

First there was Moray, a gardening experiment of the Incas:

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Then Moras, the salt flats:

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Seriously, Peru has some really cool things to see! We also spent a little bit of time learning about some customs from an authentic family of natives.IMG_3742

I bought a blue scarf from them that you can see in the pictures from Moray.

Later that day we went to a Chocolate Museum, where we met a fun group of European guys. Also, the chocolate cheesecake was delish!IMG_3802

Speaking of European, we also met a girl from Switzerland and an Italian couple on our tour. I love all things European, so I was really enjoying chatting with everybody (especially after having just visited both Switzerland and Italy!). The guys in the picture above were from Germany (I was also just there!), Belgium, and Holland. When I told the Swiss girl we were going to a chocolate museum, she laughed and had no interest (duh! She’s from Switzerland!!).

Our hostel had a drink called the Machu Picchu, so I wanted to try it. It turned out to be quite colorful!

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The next day was also our last day in Peru, and we returned to our favorite cafe overlooking the square.IMG_3808

We tried SO hard to get a picture with the name of the cafe in it, leaning out over the balcony with our cameras, and all the while below us there was a parade for the schools going on. Directly below us were some soldiers. And we certainly made a spectacle of ourselves.IMG_3795IMG_3791

One last picture of a pretty building in Cusco:IMG_3803

And with that, I believe I’ve summed up all the highlights of our trip to Peru! Tiaan is definitely a good travel buddy, and I hope we get the chance to travel again in the future! I am now back in Santiago and back to the more difficult Spanish. I can’t complain about living here though. It’s really nice, well developed, and I have a fantastic roommate who helps me all the time with practicing Spanish!

Until next time..

Hugs,
Heidi

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