Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
We waited only 4 mins, and were taken directly to the train station in Ollantaytambo. With amazing luck, we arrived at 9:55 to find out there's a 10am local train. The train was crowded, so Tom stood until km88, then we sat together. On the way, we chatted with the guard, and he pointed out many of the sights. We saw a small glacier, and glimpsed some ruins along the way.
There were fewer hikers from km88 (for the 4 day hike) than we thought, although most companies go from km82 now, which is the end of the road. Lots of folks got off at km104 for the 2 day hike, and we could see the steep trail climbing the mountain.
The train reached Aguas Calientes just before noon, and we walked the 1 block to Gringo Bills to get almost the last room. We then walked to Clave del Sol for lunch, and had mediocre pasta and slow service. We even saw a parrot eating the dough from the pizza making station.
On the way back, Louisa found some fabric that she wanted, so we bargained and bought 3 pieces. Once back at the hostel, Louisa napped while Tom ran errand: laundry, internet, and a bunch of calls. We then ran a few errands together, planning the 2nd half of our trip.
The power went out in half the town, so we decided to have an early dinner. India Felice has amazing food and a nice ambiance - we scored the table next to the fire. The power went out again, forcing us to eat a romantic dinner by candlelight and firelight. We were entertained by a large group of large women eating upstairs, who strongly reminded us of a herd of rhinos. After a leisurely (and excellent) dinner, we went back to hotel around 8.
Our clothes finally got dry when the power came on, so we didn't get to bed as early as we had hoped. We plan to get up early and catch the 1st bus at 6:30am up to Machu Picchu, so we went to bed around 9:30 to the sounds of crashing thunder and heavy rain.
We want to remember a couple if tips for when we return and do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu:
Peter Frost says to take the early 6am train from Cusco, even though it's more expensive - because it is faster and earlier, you get a solid 2hr head start on everyone else doing 4 day hike (from the excellent Peter Frost Exploring Cusco book).
Leave Sunday for a 4 day or Monday for a 3 day - most agencies don't depart on Sundays, so you run into fewer people.
From Aguas Calientes, buses do leave before 6:30, when full, so you can beat even the 6:30am crowd up there.
Gringo Bills review: we had a dank, noisy room that we didn't like very much. However, the people were very helpful, and the location great.
There was actually a line at the ticket booth, at 6:20am. The first bus filled and headed up before 6:30, and we caught the second one which left right around 6:30. So, we were among the first in the ruins. The ride up was a torturous climb up switchbacks, and after about 25 mins we arrived.
The morning was misty and occasionally foggy, making the ruins seem even more magical. They are built in a high saddle at the end of a long ridge, and have amazing views both up and down the valley of the Urubamba. We started out by heading up the stairs to the Guardhouse, so we could look down on the ruins from the south. The main agricultural terracing is above the ruins, and there were even some llamas grazing near the Funerary Rock.
Most people were instinctively speaking in hushed tones, respecting the majesty of the place, although there were a few groups noisily coming down from the Inca trail. The fog went in and out, eventually clearing a bit, although the sun never was out for long. The peaks of Wayna Picchu and Machu Picchu were covered in clouds most of the morning.
After resting Louisa's ankle a bit, we headed down into the main ruins. We started on the west side, and visited the Temple of the Sun and the Hitching Post of the Sun, among other things. After exploring for a while, Tom wanted to do the hike up Wayna Picchu, so we split forces.
Tom cruised up the steep steps, breathing hard in the thin air, but keeping a steady pace. After about 40 minutes he reached the top, and enjoyed the view for few minutes, snapping a bunch of pictures. The weather cooperated well, clearing long enough for some good pictures of the ruins. On the way down, he chatted with a South African couple that was also traveling around the world for a year - what a great idea!
Louisa in the meantime rested a bit, and the explored the lower ruins. She found a nice spot with a view, elevated her ankle, and worked on the journal for a while. She had no sooner moved up to the main plaza when Tom came down to meet her- perfect timing. We then picnicked on the rest of the bag lunches.
We then explored the Temple of the Sun, the Condor Temple, the fountains, and the royal residences. After another hour or so of ruins, we were about done. We hopped on the bus around 12:30 (supposedly the first one down, although there seemed to be ones before it) back to Aguas Calientes.
Once down we went back to India Felice. Last night, due to the power outage, they had been unable to take my credit card, so they asked us to return today to pay. We had had such a wonderful meal last night that we decided to eat lunch there too. We even ordered the same food! They didn't have any free tables, so they seated us with a solo frenchman. He told us about his 3 month trip around the world, and seemed to be delighted to have someone to talk to. Except for his smoking, we enjoyed his company.
We went back to Gringo Bills to get our bag, and then headed to the helicopter. One funny thing about Aguas Calientes is that the train tracks are a major thoroughfare, despite the fact that there are about 10 trains a day. The trains often stop in the middle of town for 15-20 minutes, requiring everyone who wants to get somewhere to clamber over the connection between the cars. On our way to the helicopter we climbed over a flatcar with a huge earthmoving caterpillar on it.
The helipad is about 10 minutes walk down the track, in a tiny clearing next to the river. The copter was late, and didn't arrive until 3:30, but we were quickly loaded and on our way. The seats were lengthwise along the sides, with thick porthole windows to look out. We did not fly near the Machu Picchu ruins, but we did have some other amazing views. As we flew up the gorge, we could see Winay Wayna, and Ollaytaytambo. We then flew over the high plain that we had ridden across a few days before, and got a great aerial view of Moray. We took a couple of pics in the cockpit, too. Finally, we landed in Cusco, got our bag, and took a taxi to the Royal Inka II. On the way we stopped at the SAEC to pick up our other bag, and donate a bottle of wine to the cause.
After checking in and settling down, we went to LanPeru to try to get a flight for tomorrow. The line was long, so Tom went to Q'ente to get our refund for the 4 day hike we didn't do. David there was pleasant, and refunded all bt $10 each. We also discussed the possibility of him buying our camelbak water bag, but he didn't have enough money.
When Tom got back to Louisa she was about to be helped. The news was bad - all flights were packed with groups of teenagers travelling to Lima. We discussed our options and finally came to the conclusion that we had had good luck going to the airport before, so we would get up early and go there to see if we could get on anyway.
We then looked for a book exchange, having finished a few books. The first one was small and had no selection, so we looked around some more and found Bar Los Perros, the best bar in Cusco by far. They had a decent book exchange, although we didn't find anything we wanted. They do have comfortable couches, great drinks, and games to play. We were excited to find Boggle, and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours drinking pisco sours, caipirenes, and competing fiercely. The lead went back and forth several times, and we were very evenly matched.
After a couple more errands, we went to dinner at Pucara, which was packed. We had good, if a bit bland, chicken soup and pejerrey. The chocolate cake was not all it was cracked up to be. Then the long day caught up with us, and we stumbled back to the hotel to pack and crash.
We got up before 6, checked out and ate breakfast, and were in a taxi to the airport by 6:30. We had not slept particularly well, since the hotel was extremely noisy. We really cannot recommend the Royal Inka II, especially for the price - the room was not particularly comfortable, they did not provide some essential things like shampoo in the bathroom, and the noise was a real problem. The person in the next room had their TV on, which sounded like it was in our room. Even noise from the restaurant 5 floors below reverberated throughout the atrium and could be heard in our room. At 5:30am a huge group of teenagers were leaving early, and the sound of them eating breakfast woke us.
At the airport there LanPeru was crowded but not packed. They made it very clear to us, however, that all of their flights were oversold, and they were not taking a waiting list. Finally, after we persisted, they explained that they had so many people travelling today, they were planning a special flight at 3pm just to take the bumped passengers. We were told we should call later to make sure that flight was going, and to see if there were spaces.
We called Aero Condor to cancel our planned flight from Lima over Nasca to see the famous lines in the desert, and headed back into town. After dropping our bags at the Royal Inka II, we wandered around Cusco for a while before stopping in Brigida Arranbide Tejada for a coffee and excellent pastry.
While wandering, we discovered that the garbage collectors drive through the streets ringing their bell. If you have trash, then you run out on the sidewalk and wave to the truck so that they will stop and collect your garbage. Walking the streets is much nicer in the morning, because the aggressive vendors, beggar, children selling postcards, etc are not awake yet.
We did a bit of touring, catching some of the things we'd missed earlier - the church of San Blas, the Cathedral, and the street containing the famous 12-cornered stone - as well as some other amazing stonework. We then stopped by an internet cafe, to try to do some more work on our 2nd half, which we still haven't bought plane tickets for.
After an hour we called LanPeru and were told there's no 3pm flight. Frustrated and hungry, we went to a good Mexican restaurant, El Cuate, and felt a little better after some food. Refreshed, we tackled LanPeru once more.
After waiting a while, we were told there were no spaces to Lima until Monday - 2 more days to wait! We finally convinced them to change our reservation to Sunday, but that still gave us yet another day in Cusco. We left and went straight to a travel agent to see if we had other options on other airlines. To our astonishment, he told us there was availability on LanPeru for tomorrow! He even showed us the screen, showing 9 open seats on the morning flight. We marched back to LanPeru to ask about this, and by the time we saw someone, we had calmed down a bit. We asked nicely how this could be the case, and were told that the travel agent's system must be wrong. The agent did take pity on us, however, and wrote down our reservation number, promising to help us if she could, and asking us to return at 6:30 to see what had happened.
Frustrated but feeling a little better, we went back to our room to read and relax a bit. Later in the afternoon, we went back to Los Perros for more wontons and a rematch in Boggle. On our way back to LanPeru, we ran into Tortillo, our river guide from the Bio Bio, who works the other half of the year for Eric Adventures running trips down the Apurimac. Small world!
At LanPeru, the agent came through for us, and we were confirmed on the 7:40am flight tomorrow - hooray! While we were in there, we saw a huge demonstration (more like a parade) in support of Toledo for president. Cusco seems to be quite politically active.
We stopped by TelSur to get on the internet for a while, and found the connection to be quite fast. Then we found a japanese restaurant for dinner. We ate upstairs, sitting on cushions on the floor, with our shoes off. The food was quite good, and we enjoyed the change of taste and texture.
We were getting up early again, so we went back to the hotel, packed, and crashed.
The flight left a bit late, and still not full, but weight may have been limiter, as the helpful LanPeru agent told us in one of our many stops in the office. On arrival in Lima, we checked for the Aces office, but it was closed. We called Aero Condor to check on a flight to Nasca, but it had left 15 minutes before.
We chated with the taxi driver (in Spanish) on the way to the Hotel Aleman. He put the hard sell on us for another hotel, city tours, etc, but we held firm. We checked in, relaxed a bit, and were pleased with the helpful staff who set us up with a driver for an afternoon city tour. They also sent us, after Tom asked to eat a plastic banana from the centerpiece, a huge plate of fresh tropical fruits which were delicious.
After a while, we walked to the center of Miraflores. The buildings are quite modern, tending to be high rises, and the streets traffic-filled. As we walked along we were surprised at the large number of money-changers on the sidewalks. They appear to be legitimate, wearing vests, but each block had at least four which seemed odd. We had a quick lunch at Burger King and returned to the hotel for the city tour.
The highway through Lima has an enterprising approach to staying clean. They transformed the land along the freeway into natural advertising. A company would pay to have their name and logo landscaped in flowers and plants - a nice idea.
We drove downtown to the old city, with our driver pointing out many of the beautiful buildings. One feature of the Lima style seems to be ornate wood balonies overlooking the street - we saw several great examples. The Plaza de Armas is huge and nicely landscaped, surrounded by majestic, colonial buildings with ornate wooden balconies. The architecture of Lima is quite lovely, actually.
Te Palacio Presidential (the Peruvian equivalent to the White House) flanks one side of the Plaza de Armas. It is a massive, ornate structure with picturesque guards in colorful uniforms and equipped with swords posted around the building.
An adjacent side is filled with another architecture beauty, the city hall. A few years ago the square undrwent major renovations during which time a canon was discoverd. The city decided to restore the canon and it now sits on the balcony of city hall aimed at President Fujimori's house.
Opposite is the cathedral and archbishop's quarters. We walked in briefly but decided to bypass the tour in lieu of a trip to the church of San Francisco. The latter was amazing, even with the tour in Spanish. San Francisco is the monastery of the Franciscan monks built in the late 16th century. The buildigns and cloisters are extensive and beautiful. Most walls are adorned with colorful Spanish tiles. The halls are lined with beautiful paintings, and many of the ceilings are carvd out of wood. The culmination being an amazingly intricate wooden cupola. The sancctuary was impressive, expecially the choir stalls. However, the memoriable part of San Francisco are the catacombs beneath the church which defy description.
These were the first cemetary in Lima, and are estimated to contain 25,000 bodies, well, the bones of the bodies. We wound through the narrow, short halls lined with open wooden boxes full of bones. Only the larger bones survive the decomposing and handling in the catacombs, so the boxes contain nicely arranged piles. It is rather bizarre, but the most eery is the final resting place, a large round subterranean tower filled with the skulls and femurs. The initial boxes are where the bodies are placed, and after an appropriate time for decomposition, the bones are moved to the tower. They caim that the tower provides extra stability during earthquakes, and this is why the church has survived many earthquakes. We did not understand how this worked, but went along with it.
Next he drove us to the beach with lots of surfers in the Pacific Ocean. A hill at one end of the beach has some large crosses prominently displayed overe the city. We went to the top for a good view of city, and to witness some couples "parked" at the top. All over the city there were lots of couples making out.
The last stop was a monument to love, wher a new bride and groom having their picture taken. The guide told us that at 7pm many of the new couples come to the plaza to dance and that it is quite a scene. He dropped us at Heladeria Quattro D for ice cream. They had lots of unusual flavors which we tasted before making final selections. Overall, the ice cream was pretty good, but not up to what we got in Rio Gallegos.
Back at the hotel we made more phone calls to Quito making reserations and inquiries for our 5 days before the Galapagos. We relaxed a bit, repacked then headed out for an early dinner.
The taxi to El Senorio de Sulco did not know the way, but fortunately the hotel had given us a voucher for free pisco sour which had a map on the back, so Tom guided the taxi drivere. We had read that the restaurant was quite romantic with candlelight, but the lights were bright, even when turned down. The restaurant ambiance was pleasant, with a unique mixture of artistic flair with Peruvian art. The appetizers tasted a bit strange, but main courses were excellent.
We returned to the hotel and sacked out early since our 6 am flight meant a 3:45 wake up call. Yikes!
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on