Friday, November 12, 2010

My trip through Peru, part 1 ... CUZCO!

I got a week off of my "work" to travel through Peru. I just got back yesterday and, after falling asleep at 8:30 last night, finally got around to sorting out my photos and everything this morning. The trip was absolutely amazing!

I left on Wednesday, November 3rd in the morning for Cuzco. Actually, I left at about 10 pm the night before to catch a 2.5 hour combi to the airport, then spent the night "sleeping" there until my flight at 5:45 am. After finding a hostel and passing out there for an hour (high altitude plus no sleep = a very tired Christine), I spent my first day exploring Cuzco. Apparently I can't follow a map, so I ended up walking around the city in circles all day. But it turned out great, and I found a lot of random areas and places that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Cuzco was the capital of the Incan empire but was later taken over by the Spaniards, so you can see the mixture of the two cultures. In fact, some times the Spaniards built their churches right on top of the Incan temples. I visited Qorikancha, which was a perfect example of this. It was a sun temple built by the Incas, but when the Spanish came, they tore down part of the temple and built a monastery on top of the Incan foundation. So when you look at the building from the front, you can see the two different layers of construction. The same thing is true in the rest of the city, where I often saw Incan stonework at the base of Spanish buildings.

Other than wandering around the city, I visited a few museums and then visited the Cristo Blanco (huge white statue of Christ) and the ruins on the mountain overlooking Cuzco. The ruins are called Sacsayhuaman -- pronounced "sexy woman", no joke. They were really beautiful and interesting, though I'm glad I saw them on my first day, since later ruins completely blew these away.

On my second day, I traveled through the Sacred Valley. I had seen photos of Moray, a ruin not covered in normal Sacred Valley tours, so I decided to do the tour on my own using taxis and buses. I started out with a bus to Pisac and went to the ruins there. The ruins were absolutely beautiful, a series of massive agricultural terraces and Incan stone buildings perched on top of a mountain. I ended up joining a Peruvian school group and walked around the ruins talking with them, to the confusion of a lot of other tourists. They couldn't figure out what the random gringa was doing in a group of a dozen Peruvian teenagers, so I got a lot of funny looks.

After that, I caught a couple of buses and a taxi to get to Moray, a ruin that I had heard about from a friend. With the exception of Machu Picchu, Moray was my absolute favorite of all the ruins I saw. It was a series of concentric circular terraces set in a valley at the base of a mountain. There weren't any other tourists around at the time, so when I sat on one of the terraces, all I could see were these perfect green circles and blue sky. I sat there for a while, just marveling in how peaceful and relaxing it was. While the other ruins were beautiful mentally, with the sheer amount of history and work evident in them, this was beautiful in its simplicity and perfection. It was designed for agriculture, but it could have just as easily been a place for mediation and relaxation. It was so beautiful that I probably could have sat there all day.

But alas, I had to move on. From there, I went to Ollantaytambo, the last town in the Sacred Valley. I got there at about 4 pm and was planning on going from there to Aguas Calientes (at the base of Machu Picchu) to spend the night. The only form of transportation between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes is by train, so I went to buy my ticket as soon as I got to Ollantaytambo. Though I was there at about 4, the 7:30 train was already full, and the next one wasn't until 11 pm. So I visited the ruins at about 5. The ruins were pretty cool, mainly in how massive they were, but the best part was that the sun was just beginning to set beneath the mountains. I went all the way to the top of the ruins and watched the sun disappear, and the light it cast over the valley and ruins was incredible. It completely lit everything up and made the ruins literally glow.

The next day (Friday, November 5), I got to Machu Picchu at about 6:30 am so I could hike up Huayna Picchu, the peak overlooking Machu Picchu. (Huayna Picchu is the mountain in the background of every photo of Machu Picchu. It's limited to 400 hikers each day.) It was so amazingly beautiful from the top. From there, Machu Picchu seemed tiny surrounded by mountains on all sides. It seemed like the mountain dropped straight down from the rock I was sitting on, descended thousands of feet to the Rio Urumbamba, and then rose back again to equally high mountain peaks. I sat up there for an hour or two just looking around because it was so astoundingly beautiful.

Then of course, Machu Picchu itself was amazing. The ruins seemed to go on and on and were in perfect condition. From the top part of the ruins, it seemed like the city was suspended on a little ridge between the two mountains (Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu).

The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful, filled with a bus, train, and colectivo ride through the beautiful Sacred Valley to get back to Cuzco.

My last day in Cuzco (Saturday, November 6) was uneventful, though nice and relaxing. I had a wonderful breakfast on a balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas, did a bit of shopping, visited some museums I had missed, and generally finished seeing the city. Then at 8:30 pm, I was on an overnight bus headed to Arequipa!

All in all, I really enjoyed Cuzco. It was amazingly beautiful and filled with history and culture. Though at times it was very frustrating. It was very touristy and at times I felt like I was just getting gyped left and right. My best experience was seeing Machu Picchu and hiking Huayna Picchu, though getting there and leaving there with the train was the most frustrating. Because there weren't any other ways to get there (other than trekking), train tickets were $50 or more for an hour long ride. As a point of comparison, my 15 hour bus to Lima with the best bus company in Peru was 80 soles, or $30. And the entire city was completely full of tourists, to the point where I was going days barely hearing Spanish. Peruvians wouldn't even talk to me in Spanish, even when I kept responding to their English with Spanish.

The trip was wonderful and I am completely glad I went to see Cuzco and Machu Picchu. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. But this trip definitely confirmed my preference for visiting non-touristy places.


There were too many photos to put on here, since the uploader is incredibly slow. To see a small selection of my photos, look at my facebook album.

Post on Arequipa and my Colca Canyon trek tomorrow!

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