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Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 5- Machu Picchu and Back

Machu Picchu

**for pictures on all this stuff go to Austin's blog for some good ones which is
also, we are trying to get all of our pictures up on facebook as well. Sorry i don't have the correlating ones here and ready, but i plan too at some point... patience.

We chose 6:00 as our wake up time, so we would be able to eat and get ready for our long trip to Machu Picchu. None of us were excited about the long trip, even though we had no idea exactly how long it was. All we knew is that it would be around 4 hours. Breakfast was amazing as it always, and I really feel like I want to try to continue this sort of breakfast habit when I return to the states. We all have our own favorites and methods of doing breakfast. For instance, Maury loves nesquick, jake loves his yogurt, I love my juice and sandwiches and Austin loves him some fruit. I will definitely miss the Cuzco breakfasts, but I bet that Ilda will take care of us just fine back home.

Rolando had us meet him, so we would walk over to where our van was leaving. We originally thought we were taking train to train to bus, but apparently the plans changed to van to train to bus. Anyways, the van was not as comfortable as it could have been, but the views along the way were so incredible that I found it hard to care. The other 3 guys slept a good amount, but I put on my headphones and tried to enjoy the views as much as possible. I really wanted to hype myself up for Machu Picchu by thoroughly enjoying the scenery before hand, and it was a good strategy. The van ride lasted around two hours, and I think I slept for maybe five minutes of the ride. I figure you got to enjoy another country’s landscape while you’re there.

There was this weird layover process where we sat and waited for 20 minutes before we could continue driving the van, and then another wait before we could board the train. We thoroughly lathered on the sunscreen because the sun beats down here like I haven’t experienced in the states. Odd digression, but the sky is even a different color of blue. It is a deeper, darker blue that seems somehow more full and protective than our light, sky blue back home.

The train was nice, and it made is feel like we were that much closer to Machu Picchu, because the switch to the train provided a different, jungle-like landscape that we didn’t get on the van over. None of us slept a wink, but, instead, we talked, laughed, enjoyed the couple runes that we got to see, and eavesdropped on the german couple sitting next to us. The train only took an hour and twenty, so it went by quickly because we were comfortable and happy the entire trip.

Our arrival in Aguas Calientes was uneventful, and we met Christina who was our Agency’s contact there. She gave us the lowdown about where we would eat, when our bus was leaving to MP, and our daily time frame. Apparently, we didn’t have food scheduled until after our tour, which meant we were all going to die of hunger while enjoying MP. Our spirits were too high to be extremely bothered by this, but it was still a little sad. At least we would be able to see MP sooner than we originally anticipated.

The bus ride up was exciting, because we knew we were about to see one of the wonders of the world. I expected beauty, but words, like my expectations couldn’t be close to the real thing. We caught quick glimpses of the runes on the way up, but it was always slightly clouded by the trees and brush. The view was still amazing on the way up… I honestly cant express how intimidating and massive the landscape is. The cliffs are so steep that it is scary, and I have never felt so small and insignificant. The 25 minute bus ride was a great primer to the real mind-blowing experience.

We chose the guide that spoke English, for obvious reason, and we started climbing up towards the best view. It honestly wasn’t long at all before we got too look over the 700-year-old runes that spanned hundreds of yards lengthwise and varied in altitude at least 100 yards. We were going picture crazy, but pictures can not do it justice. I have seen the runes on TV, gawked at the posters, wondered at the actual beauty of the place… but nothing except seeing it can give it justice. Honestly, just taking the bus and touring around the place doesn’t even really do it. As I walked through the runes, I couldn’t help but wish we had done the Inca Trail, or at least a small part of it. Perhaps only with an extended immersion in the landscape and jungle/mountain feel, can one truly feel like they are at MP; otherwise, it sort of feels like a memorable, passing dream.

One of the most impacting things for me was the amount of time such a city took to make. Think about the number of man hours necessary to make 216 buildings, 4 of which are temples out of stone blocks. The investment is mind boggling, and this fact was confirmed by the quarries and unfinished works which remained. The buildings, the terraces, the water systems (200-300 gallons per day guided from the natural mountain spring), the astronomical aspects (The cardinal directions had been carved in stone, and a calendar that used the rising sun and temple windows), Wayna Picchu (the nearby mountain which is quite a bit higher and serves as a lookout point for the city), the trails (which are often carved out of the mountain side), the aspects we don’t get to see such as the farming and roof thatching… I don’t know… the compilation of so many generations work is incredible, and it makes me feel like I will accomplish nothing. What a joy it would have been to be a part of such a beautiful manifestation of hard work; moreover, it is further satisfying because that work is still enjoyed to this day, and will continue to be visited for centuries to come.

The pictures we took cant do it justice, and I could not be more convinced that MP should be on the top of everyone’s places-to-travel-to list. We had so much fun taking pictures, dangling our legs over ledges that would prove fatal if we fell, and trying our best to take everything in. The tour lasted about 3 hours, and we decided to go see the Inkan Bridge after the tour was over. On the way to the bridge we stopped by one of the temples, which offers a unique acoustic aspect: if you speak into one of the window-like recesses, the sound can be heard in the other 5 recesses the building possesses. We decided to hum a couple notes and try to take full advantage of the acoustic temple, and it was actually a lot of fun. We tried to capture the sounds via recording, but none of the recordings could do our harmonies justice. We continued towards the Incan Bridge and ran into a group of girls doing the same thing that attend Roanoke College. Though they all claimed to be 20, I would have sworn they were on a rich high school girls field trip. There were actually a good number of Americans all around, which really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but it was nice to use English to communicate again. The bridge itself was pretty anticlimactic, but the short hike was fun, and we got some really good pictures that I want to put up on facebook asap so people can enjoy them, some of them are pretty entertaining. Once we were done with the bridge, Jake and I wanted to get a cool picture in the distance, so people could appreciate how big MP actually is. We did a quick jog to get to the spot, and I implore people to look at the pictures just to get a good idea of how massive and beautiful this place is.

The time went by so fast because we were so thoroughly engulfed in our surroundings and because we were having a lot of fun. Mauricio and Austin’s interaction is priceless, and I wish our friends could peak in and see it, because it is hilarious. Austin constantly bashes Peru and its smell, dirtiness, short people and overall lack of all that is good (remember this is just Austin, and while Peru is dirty, it does smell, has an obscene amount of short people, and does lack thinks like Ice, free refills, free water with dinner, sanitary conditions, etc, he is just trying to get back at Mauri), and Mauricio gives Austin shit for being a bad hiker and tourist, which Austin naturally objects to, or at least the tourist part anyways. Austin had some trouble with the hike because we were so tired, the elevation was 4x Kirksville, there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of stair climbing involved, and we had to keep a healthy pace to keep up with our tour guide (which reminds me, our tour guide sucked, didn’t fill us in on a lot of things, had an attitude I wasn’t too fond of, but the worst was that his cell phone kept ringing loudly, and he was even on the phone for much of the tour!). Austin still had a blast, of course, but I think he would have appreciated a little more consideration, a slightly slower pace, and probably some more humility from the 3 of us because we were definitely tired as well. There was no harm done though, and there still haven’t been any blowups or tangible anger. The four of us get along swimmingly, and I have total faith this will continue through the remainder of our stay.

It was about 5ish by the time we got back to Aguas Calientes (the small city at the base of MP), and we were starving. We had apparently already paid for dinner (it was included in our trip), so we made our way to Payacha which had similar food to every other restaurant we have been to. I got a criolle soup that changed my life (and I made it even better by adding Aji to it [remember that aji is the spicy sauce I had at Mauri’s that is amazing]), lomo saltado (again, remember I had this at Mauri’s as well), which didn’t turn out to be as good as the stuff I had had previously, and a pancake which chocolate syrup for dessert. The meal was satisfying, even though our waitress was kind of a bitch, and I think she hated us all. Luckily for her, the tip is automatically added to the bill, and because we got a couple liters of lemonade she tagged us 10%, which we really cant complain about anyways.

At dinner, Maury said how much he wanted a couple beers, and he wanted them asap. We made our way to where the bars were, and this is where it got crazy. We were innocently walking by the bars, towards the one which we had been directed earlier, when I heard one of the Bar’s workers (much like the people that try to recruit you into party’s in Cuzco, there are workers outside trying to suck you in with special deals) say something about a Happy Hour. Unable to help myself, I inquired further about this happy hour, and I was promptly surrounded by at least 3 other restaurants’ recruiters trying to get the four of us to go to their place. They were all yelling out deals to us in Spanish, English and even what appeared to be elementary sign language. It was a total clusterfuck and I loved every seoond of it. I honestly cant help myself… I love attention, in general, and everyone wants to be desired, which, boy did they want us to frequent their establishment. I was listening to the different offers, my favorite of which included free nachos with Queso AND Guacamole, so I tried to tell Mauricio this while he was doing the serious bartering. It should definitely be noted that Mauricio does not appreciate when I attract all the recruiters like a stupid American (this was my second incident, the first was when we were out finding a bar in Cuzco 2 nights previously). All Mauri wanted was a good beer, but I had to go and make a mess out of it. (surely that is what was going through his mind). Austin felt bad for the mess I had made, so he followed one of the recruiters to her bar, and I followed because she offered us these huge beers (620 ml for 7 soles, which is basically two beers worth for $2.50, not a bad deal for a cool, balcony bar). Maury and Jake found a better deal, or at least agreed to go to another bar (the one which first tried to recruit me), but we were already up the stairs of another one, so they had to let her down and follow us.

Though it was a total disaster, and I think Mauri told me he hated me at least 100 times, it actually ended up working out beautifully because it was cheap, and the Cusquena is delicious! We all kind of wanted to drink a little, but we were split as to how much we actually wanted to drink, because we didn’t know if it would be a good idea to be drunk and try to make our way home (there were some complications, which would have been best handled sober). On the other hand, the ride back is awful, and a couple beers could make the ride more enjoyable, or at least help us sleep through the ride back. I will leave it up to the reader to guess who wanted to do what. We each had 2 of the big, double beers and one small one before we realized we were running out of time before we had to board the train. We got a pisco sour on the way out, and decided to head towards our 4-5 hour ride back home.

As we made our way to where our train was set to leave, Christina (the agency’s contact here) informed us that the driver set to pick us up and take us the final leg home, would not be able to take us after all. She basically told us that we were on our own for the last 1.5 hrs unless Rolando could find someone. Since Rolando is a badass (aka Brolando), he actually found someone and had Christina tell us the following: “He’ll be in a white station wagon. His name is victor. He’ll be waiting for you.” This was basically the scariest/funniest thing that we had heard in ages, because it was just so sketchy. First of all, who has white station wagons? And, I dunno… it just sounded like bad news. And it was.

We found our seats for the first part of the trip back on the train. I actually ended up sitting by a woman that was from Nottingham, England. She was taking a 7 month trip with her boyfriend, which encompassed the Americas. She was really nice, and I always like to make friends when I can. Also, it was nice to pass some time as well. I did feel bad though, because I am pretty sure there were only like 3 people awake in our train car and we were still talking, but fuck ‘em right? Anyways, that part of the trip went smoothly, but we still had the van ride followed by the mysterious white station wagon.

We had to exit the train and then multiple people went various ways to cuzco from there. Our route, via Peru Rail, was the most popular, so we got in that line to board the vans. Our conversation, as usual, was awkward, and I believe our topic focused on how much Austin loves babies. Some Brits overheard the conversation and commented on the obsession… it was downhill from there. I started talking to them quite a bit – remember, I love friends – and we discovered that they were pretty wasted. There were six people in their group, although the woman I primarily talked to on the van-ride came with just her boyfriend, and they picked up the rest along their 6-month voyage which is gonna end here in a couple weeks. Her boyfriend had a pint of some sort of rum, and he offered us some “caps.” We accepted a round. The whole thing was cute until we had to sit directly adjacent to them in the van, and they were loud and obnoxious, while everyone else was just trying to sleep. I felt bad, but I really couldn’t ignore the woman that was talking, because it could have gotten weird. Our conversation was insignificant and brushed on our respective career paths, but I doubt she’ll be able to remember of it anyways. That ride took forever, because it wasn’t too comfortable, and the company was just as bad.

We finally got to whatever small town it was where we needed to find our station wagon. The Brits thought we were in Cuzco, so I have no idea if they ever made it back to their hostel. We found our ride pretty quickly, and we learned that we were gonna have an extra passenger hang out in the back. We still have no idea who this dude was, but he just jumped right in and tagged along for the hour and a half ride of hell to Cuzco. The roads are crazy rocky, bumpy, turny, hilly, and a ton of other uncomfortable adjectives. Our driver, victor, was flying down them, so there was no way to sleep for more than 1 minute at a time, which was hell because we were so exhausted and dozing off constantly. To add to it all, there were the three of us (Mauri was comfortable in shotgun) in the backseat, and our dozing led to heads knocking, bodies flopping and a lot of unwanted touching. I am pretty sure it was the worst ride of my life, and I have never been more happy to arrive at a destination. After we dropped random dude off, we went straight to the hotel. We climbed in through the little door, which is used to allow guests in after everything is officially locked up.

Austin went right to sleep, but I felt absolutely disgusting having stepped on and dragged alpaca poo everywhere in MP. We were dusty, sweaty and gross, so I took the shower because I knew I couldn’t sleep like this. It was one of the most rewarding showers of my life. I was kinda bummed because I knew we were leaving Cuzco the following day, and I love that place. A lot happened here, and I cant help but think it will be one of, if not the biggest highlight of the whole trip to Peru. My bad was soft and accepting. I felt clean, happy and exhausted. I am sure my dreams were happy ones.

I will miss you Cuzco.

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