Thursday, August 28, 2008
We got back yesterday afternoon from a three-day, two-night trip to the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. When I hear the word "canyon," I immediately conjure images of one of the jewels of the National Park Service, the majestic Grand Canyon. As Eric and I were somewhat disappointed to find out (although I think Eric had a more realistic notion to begin with), the actual physical manifestation of the word "canyon" can apparently vary widely. The Colca Canyon, while beautiful, might be better described as a deep valley, no matter how it was geologically formed. Therefore, having seen and walked through quite a few valleys on our previous trek, the scenery wasn't particularly novel and when combined with four hours of sleep before hiking down dusty switchbacks for four hours, we were a little grumpy the first day. However, our spirits quickly rose when we reached our first night's lodgings, a remote colony of huts run by an extremely amiable man named Claudio. While basic, the bed was comfortable and the view overlooking the confluence of two rivers was spectacular. Oh, and did I mention the hot springs? We also met a guided group and quickly became friends with a father and son pair of French Canadians, so by evening we were excited for the next day.
The next day began at 9:30 as we hiked up the far side of the canyon and then back down into the valley to a little set of huts and swimming pools called the Oasis. The 11 hours of sleep from the previous night (it's amazing what happens without electricity) made this trek pretty enjoyable. However the highlight was definitely lounging by the naturally filled pools in the afternoon while playing cards and reading. The only bummer of the day was that Eric developed a rash under his lip which we soon determined to be caused by the sap of a cactus he had played with the day before. The white, milky sap became sticky as he pinched his fingers together, which was cool, but he must have accidentally wiped his face with those same fingers, causing the rash. It's healing quickly though and is even a little amusing since it mostly just looks like he has jam on his face.
The final day was pretty rough as it began at 4am and ended three hours and 1100 meters straight up later. Although cursing under my breath most of the way up, I did feel quite a sense of accomplishment as I looked back down into the canyon. We had thought we might be able to catch the private bus back to Arequipa which our French Canadian friends had come on, but once in town we were bummed to learn that it was full. However, we eventually made it back to Arequipa on a public bus (after close to 7 hours of enduring Peruvian Synth Pop Music) and were both quite happy to have done the trek, despte our initial disappointment with it's "canyonness."
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Here begins the original post, above will be an update:
Friday, August 22, 2008
We just got back late last night from a fantastic four-day trip that went through high altitude mountains and valleys near Cusco and ended in an all-day visit to Machu Picchu. I kind of chose our company on instinct and it turned out to be a great choice. The company really understood what we were looking for on our tour - an alternative to the highly-commercialized and heavily-trafficked "Inca Trail." We began at some wonderful hot springs and then walked for about four and a half hours through the mountains, camping in a small village. As I mentioned in my last post, we were considering renting an extra mule to carry our stuff. However, we were delighted to find out at our pre-trek briefing that we were only expected to carry a day bag with water and an extra layer anyway, so the mule was unnecessary. Furthermore, our tents and things were all ready for us everyday when we arrived at camp, which was followed by a sit down meal of really good, simple food. Although not particularly hard-core, even Eric admitted that it was a pretty nice way to camp!
Being the only tourist around for two of the four days of our trek, we also got a very real perspective on the life of the Peruvians living in the highlands. We saw tons of llamas and alpacas and were offered more beautiful weavings than we could justify buying (although we did pick up a few!). Overall the people were really friendly and seemed to be completely self-sufficient. They farmed on these amazing terraces where it would seem impossible to grow things and managed pretty large herds of animals which provided clothing, meat, and fertilizer (I´ve never seen so much poop!). On our third day we hiked for half of the day and then spent the afternoon at an amazing Incan site called Ollantaytambo. The masonry was absolutely spectacular. They fit the rocks together like puzzles in order to provide greater resistance to the large earthquakes that occasionally rock Peru, and given that the Inca didn´t even have iron tools, it was absurdly impressive. Pictures below.
In the evening of the third day we took a train to Aguas Calientes, which is the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. We only slept for about 5 hours because we all wanted to get there as early as possible, with the hope of seeing the sunrise. Although clouds foiled any chance of seeing the sunrise, it worked out well because there was SO much to explore. I think I can safely say that it surpassed both of our expectations, both in craftsmanship and scale. It was also really nice to have a guide to explain what we were looking at. Eric and I also decided to climb up to the top of Machu Picchu mountain, roundtrip 3 hours but well worth it. The view was spectacular and we saw a lot of really interesting flora and fauna (it´s a completely different environment than even an hour away). I´m going to stop writing now so that I have time to upload the pictures, but Eric will probably contribute more soon.
Eric stooping to buying a McFlurry.
Eric looking rather hesitant as he faces another bite of one of Peru´s national specialties, ceviche. Although the first bites were delicious, an entire meal of super limey fish became pretty unappealing.
Traffic mimes. Enough said.
A squished avocado during our LONG bus ride from Lima to Cusco. What at first seemed like a tragedy turned into a tasty treat as we squeezed avocado onto chips.
The Plaza de Armas (central Cusco)
A view over Cusco from our budget hotel.
The ruins at Pisac. They spread over quite a large area and thanks to some adventurous trail blazing by Eric, we ended up finding an Inca tunnel (below)!
And a guinea pig castle in the market. Guinea pig is another Peruvian specialty, although we´ve yet to try it.
Ahhh, I´m out of time so we´ll have to post the most recent pictures when we get back on! Sorry for the tease - I´m sure most of you just wanted to see the photos of Machu Picchu. Stay tuned.
Hope everyone is well! Love, Alix and Eric
Sunday, August 17, 2008
The town is about an hour north of Cusco, and we were going not only to see stunning ruins and the remains of some ridiculous terraced farming, but also to shop the nauseatingly touristy market in town. We rolled up to a street corner with 70 people waiting for rides, and got in a taxi with a couple from California. They turned out to be awesome, and we spent the rest of the day wandering the ruins with them.
We began in the markets, driving a hard bargain for alpaca wool products and brightly painted objects. We were expecting everything to be fairly expensive but were surprised to find $8 felt fedoras and 80 cent ceramic phallus statues.
We met back up with John and Anneka and drove up to the top of the ruins, perched 1500´ feet above town. The ruins were typically incredible, with small clusters of buildings perched in absolutely ridiculous clifftop locations, overlooking many acres of what used to be terraced farming. We explored the ruins for a while on our own, having little clue what we were actually looking at or the history behind it. We´re looking forward to having a guide for the next leg of the trip to provide some historical context.
We soon stumbled upon a lightly-traveled path from the top of the ruins down the hill. this took us through a tiny squeeze of a rock tunnel through the side of the cliff, which spit us out on the other side of the peak. At the opening of the tunnel, there were several traditionally dressed Peruvians with flutes. They sounded worse than my sister when she was first learning recorder, which I had previously thought was impossible. A big industry here is the ´person carrying around a baby llama and wearing a woven poncho to charge tourists 1 Sol.´ Alix is still waiting for the exact one that she wants to take a picture of.
We´re off to meet back up with John and Anneka for dinner at a place called Victor Victoria. Apparently it has absolutely amazing local and traditional bacon cheeseburgers. Photos are coming soon, we promise.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
We just dropped our things off at a nice littel hotel near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco and are going to head out to explore in the afternoon. I expect to be looking at Eric´s back the majority of the time as he outpaces me, but I´ll manage. Then we´ll probably get some dinner, stroll around some more and hit the sack relatively early so we can get up to go to the big Sunday market in Pisac tomorrow. One of our couch surfing aquaintances in Lima told me that I could find tons of cheap gems and stones there, so I´m excited to see what they have. Then on Monday morning, we begin our hike to Machu Picchu.
We are taking tons of pictures and will be sure to post them as soon as we find someplace to upload them!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
We don't have a computer, so updating this blog (who reads a travel blog anyway?) will be difficult. Stay tuned for photos of the two of us smiling with aviators.
We are leaving for the airport in about an hour and from there we will fly to Lima on a direct flight. Much to our surprise (and mild embarrassment for our ignorance), Lima turns out to be only one hour behind NYC. As you will discover if you look at a map, the west coast of South America is pretty much in line with the east coast of the U.S., meaning that we will not have to worry about jet lag. Therefore, we're planning to basically get off the plane, drop our bags at the South American Explorers Club, and then sight see with the help of a local Peruvian whom we met via www.couchsurfing.com For those of you unfamiliar with couch surfing, it is a website that was created to facilitate international exchange by connecting people around the world and allowing them to sleep on each other's couches or spare beds. I considered trying this out when I was in Paris, but was a little wary doing it by myself. However, with Eric, and the assurance gained from reading reviews from other travellers, we're excited to try it out and meet some locals.
Alright, that's it for now. We will do our best to regularly update this and to make it somewhat interesting to read!