I have so much to tell you, where should I begin? I think the natural starting point for this post is our arrival in Cusco.
As you know from previous posts we were fortunate to befriend a Peruvian family in Lima. As it turns out one of their cousins operates a travel agency in Cusco, so they they set us up with them when we arrived. So, after only a few minutes after getting off the plane in Cusco we found ourselves booking all of our excursions. It was at this moment (like an idiot) I sided with with Peter in deciding that we would walk up to Machu Picchu from the Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Town). I would live to regret this decision…but more on this later.
After leaving the travel agency we were taken by the Cousin to our hostel: Hostel Royal Frankenstein. This delightful little horror-themed hostel is operated by a quirky German man named Roth, who has been living at the hostel since 2006 while he waits for his house to be built (or so he claims). The astute observe will note the shrine to Roth´s belated golden retreiver that sits in the lobby. While this perhaps should have been a warning sign to us that this hostel was going to be…unsual…we checked-in into a private room with its own bathroom.
Our room was pretty nice, but very cold. It was called the Monster Ruum. There was a portrait of Frankenstein on the frosted glass panel inset into the door. Inside the room there were two plaster hands on the ceiling hold a small miror at an odd angle. Now I know what your thinking…but the size and angle of this mirror would not have been conducive to any sort of ¨romantic¨endeavours even if this wasn´t a boys´trip. The mirror was just weird. Other eccentric decorating features included a massive spider painted into the corner, and a few wires coming out of the wall with a sign next to them saying ¨warning high voltage¨and then another sign underneath that reading ¨just kidding.¨
Having checked into our Hostel it was time for our first excursion, a city tour of Cusco. We met the tour group a few blocks away in the main square near the From there we walked to the nearby cathedral befor getting on the bus to go an tour some ruins in and around the city. You can imagine the snickering grins and inmature giggles that burst from our lips when our tour guid told us that our first stop would be in a sexy woman. What he was really saying, in his accented english, was ¨our first stop will be in, eh, Saqsayhuaman.¨ Saqsayhuaman is the name of the giant stone fort that the Chechuan people built above the city of Cusco for both cermony and safety. One of the rocks in the fortress weighed over 100 tones and was moved from over 7 miles away. As we would come to see, the stone working abilities of the ancient Chechuan people (commonly referred to as Incans, though in truth the Inca was simily the name given to their leader, akin to a King) was simply amazing. Other cites we visited on our tour included the ruins of Tombomachay, Pukapukara, a cave where the Chechuan used to mumify their elites, and a baby alpaca wool garment factory/store.
Later that night (i.e. June 2nd) we returned to the hostel, and Peter had to attend to an unfortunate incident. As a result of extreme negligence, Mr. Cross wantonly and recklessly failed to bring a functioning wallet to South America. Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, Mr. Cross lost his debit card. So, after getting back to our cold, creepy room Peter calls the international service line of RBC. After being on hold for a few minutes a ring tone sounds, and a voice emerges on the other end: ¨Thank you for calling RBC this is Amanda, how can I help you?¨ Peter picks up the phone, takes it off speakerphone and replies: ¨Yes, hi Amanda, this is Peter, i like the department for getting a client card sent to Equador!¨ Needless to say, Josh and I burst our laughing; a frown crossed Peter´s face as we are sure Amanda was telling him that no such department exists. As I write this Peter continues to be without debit card and is relient upon the kind generousity of Josh and I who are lending him money.
On June 3rd we went on another excursion. First we drove out to the Ruins of Moray. These are essentially several levels of concentric circle terraces built down into a mountain valley, which served as an ancient green-house of sorts. Apparently, so said the tour guide, the builders of Moray observed that different types of rocks conducted heat to differing degrees; thus they used the best heat conducting rocks to build their terrances to create a micro-climate several thousand meters above sea level.
The second main stop on this excursion were the salt mine or Maras. This is where Peruvian pink salt comes from. These mines, which are more aptly caled salt pools, are built into the side of a very narrow and steep valley. Apparently, at one time the area that now constitutes the salt mine was all under the sea (presumably this was several million years ago, because its now several kilometers above!). The pools are all fed by a stream that drains into the valley that this then divided over 600 times into over 600 pools, where the water is collected, and then the heat of the sun evaporates the liquid, leaving the salt to be harvested. How anyone ever figured out how to do this is beyond me!
The following day we began our adventure to Machu Picchu (MP). MP is about 300km from Cusco, so there was some travel invovled to get there. We had decided when we were booking our excursions upon arrival in Cusco that we would take the ¨Sacred Valley Tour¨to complete the first leg of the travel. This tour took us to the runis of Chinchero, and Ollantaytambo, and a delightful lunch in the town of Urubamba. I found the ruins at Ollantaytambo to be the most impressive of the lot. It is a massive set of terrances shapped as a llama. The stone work was incredible. This was also the site where the Chechuans split up while fleeing the Spanish, with some ultimately going on to MP: Simply amazing.
It was from Ollantaytambo that we got the train to Aguas Calientes (MP Town). We had previously arranged with out tour company to have a person meet us upon our arrival and take us to our hostel. We were told they would be holding a sign with out names on it. When we got there the sign said: ¨Peter / IIashua¨. This was consisent with the Sacred Valley tour guid having referred to us all day as ¨Mr. Peter Joshua, tres persone.¨ We called it an early night in anticipate of our ¨hike¨up to Machu Picchu in the morning.
We woke up at 5:00 on June 5th. The night before we had met with our tour guide and she told us that we were to meet at the top at 7:45 to start our tour. She told us that while most people take the bus (yes, there is a bus that we could / should have taken) it takes on average an hour and a half to ¨hike¨to the top. Now, I´ve been on hikes before, and they´ve been pleasant. This was no ¨hike.¨ It was a 400 meter stair case, with some of the steps being 2ft each! You should know, dear blog, that Peter and Josh are, shall we say, more athletically inclined than me, and Peter even more so that Josh. On my trek up this mountain I learned in a very painful, and exhuasting way that being smart isn´t everything. I can hardly exagerate how unpleasant I found this vertical march to be. Occassionally we would cross the road that the busses drove on, we´d waive to them, and I could all but hear the bus passengers lean over to the person next to them say ¨boy, I´m sure glad we´re not walking this!¨ Eventually, of course, we made it to the top. Its damn good thing one of the great wonders of the world was waiting up there, or I´d have been awfully disappointed with our hike.
Its hard to describe Machu Picchu and do it justice. It looks exactly like the post cards. Its mind boggling that hundreds of years ago people built this magnificient structure with hardly any tools or technology. Thankfully, for those who built MP the rock quarry that was used to build the city was located at the on site. But still! I think the best we can do is post some pictures and let you be the judge for yourself. It was simply incredible! Magnifique! Incroyable! (Editor´s note: internet problems are preventing pictures from being posted at this time)
Of course, since we walked up, we had to walk down. Turns out, when gravity is on your side the walk is a lot easier. We also had the delight of a cute brown puppy following us all the down the path from MP back to Aguas Calientes. We dubbed her our Machu Poochu!
Once we got back to town we grabbed a bit to eat, I had a shower, and we sent some laundry to be done. We then walked up to the local hot springs, which were warm at best. Regrettably we didn´t have the foresight to bring towels, and it made for a chilly walk back to our hostel in wet bathing suits, but luckly the air was warm. After that we grabbed another bite to eat, grabbed a few beers, and went down to the square to drink them and reminesce about our day. At one point Josh remarked, I wonder where Machu Poochu is right now. Just then Peter glanced over his shoulder and said ¨is that her?¨ It was, and she sauntered over to us. Then as the clouds set in, Machu Poochu currled up under our bench as it startd to rain. A sensible fear of street / jungle dogs kept us from bringing her back to our hostel. It didn´t take long for us to fall asleep that night.
The following day, we took the train back to Cusco, and wondered around the town for the afternoon. We stayed at Hostel Frankenstein again. The Devil you know I suppose. Josh and Peter tried some guinea pig at the Corpu Christi festival that was going on in town, but I politely declined, given that ginea pigs looked liked they´d been flash cooked in a furnace. We also ventured into the local market, and for reasons that can´t be rationally explained we ventured down the innards aisle, which contained exactly what the sign promised.
Cusco was a very exciting time, and Machu Picchu was incredible. We are now in Quito, and will fly to Bogota in the morning. Stay tuned to hear about our time in Equador!