Wednesday, March 12, 2008

February 1st and 2nd- Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu!

This the postcard shot! Wayna Picchu in the background and Machu Picchu, foreground!

A llama enjoys Machu Picchu
Ben and I cheese it up, for our scrapbook shot which MP in the background.
This is a hummingbird over the Urubamba
This is how we cut the grass, cut the grass, cut the grass... This is how we cut the gras in Aguas Calientes! Everyone sing!

The mighty Urubamba

What can say about the pictures about? They are all shots Ben took while at Machu Picchu, agricultural terraces, bromeliads, and beautiful ruins!

Today started bright and early once again... we were off to the train station at 6:30am to catch the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is about 2 to 3 hours from Cusco. It is the portal into the Amazon basin and the only way to get to Machu Picchu if you choose to be lazy, and skip the trek of the Gringo/Inca Trail and take the train in! I had read in Lonely Planet that Aguas Calientes was a dirty, and not very pleasant little town and that we shouldn't look forward to our time in it, treating it merely as a stopping post to pass into Machu Picchu. However, I was pleasantly surprised. While the town is VERY touristy and "choch-kees" can be found everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, the town is interesting, because it has a mighty and fierce looking river called the Urubamba that passes right through it. This river is amazing in its ferocity, the tumbling water was really something to see. The Urubamba is one of the many tributaries of the Amazon river.

The train ride was fairly uneventful, except that we make many strange starts and stops at the beginning of the ride because the train was old school and the track had to be manually switched! Upon arrival in Aguas we were herded (and this really is the best way to describe it!) to buses that would take us up, up, up a switchback dirt road to Machu Picchu. I can't really describe the beauty of the cliffs. They were cloaked in bromeliads, Spanish moss, and succulents. It was gorgeous! When we reached the top, our destination of Macchu Picchu, I was surprised that it seemed smaller than Ollantaytambo, which we had seen the day before! Don't get me wrong the ruins of the city are spectacular, but truthfully I was much more excited to see Sacashuaman and Ollantaytambo, maybe because I knew less about them so there landscapes were more striking to me... Anyways, we had an informative if not entirely truthful tour of the ruins. Our guide was insistent that the residents of Machu Picchu grew none of their own food on the vast agricultural terraces on the site. Instead, he told us that residents had made Machu Picchu into a garden city, growing only aesthetically pleasing plants on the terraces, and while in theory I think this is nice, Ben and I both felt the need to protest this theory. The Inca's seem to have been an ingenious, and practical people, mindful of military strategy and tuned into the importance of national security! To say that they fully relied on outside sources for their sustenance and that they chose to grow flowers instead of the food that would help insure their community security does an injustice to their memory, in my opinion!

Today was our "free" day in Aguas Calientes. While we had the option of buying a ticket for a 2nd day at Machu Picchu Ben and I decided to be tourists and wander around the town market. We had to catch the late afternoon train back to Cusco at 3pm and I think both of us are looking forward to our free day in Cusco tomorrow, Sacsahuaman and the Cathedral in morning and early afternoon- Super Bowl (somewhere!) tomorrow night!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

January 31st- A Busy Day in the Sacred Valley

Erika with little girls in Pisaq Market

The Urubamba river is to the left, mountains to the right

Pisaq Market is so colorful!

The Town Center in Ollantaytambo

More Pisaq...

Peru is the birthplace of the potato!

Inca Walls

Agricultural fields in the Sacred Valley
Mountains in the mist, taken from the top of the ruins at Ollantaytambo

The city of Ollantaytambo as seen from the ruins

The mountain face directly across from the Ollantaytambo ruins. Can you see the "Face of our Fathers"?

Is this Ireland or Peru?

Corny (ha!) Carnaval Decorations in Pisaq!

Ben and Erika look like they are falling into the Sacred Valley!



Our morning started bright and early since we needed to be up and out of our rooms and in the lobby to be picked up for sight-seeing at 7:30am! (No rest for the weary.) Ben and I were so happy to have pizza last night for dinner I nearly danced to the wood fired pizza shop! We also found an internet cafe but were unable to blog due to some technical snafus. We have been able to contact our families finally to let them know we are alive, and well. Today we had a fantastic tour of the Sacred Valley. We travelled first to Pisaq site of a really cool local market and also of the ruins of agricultural terraces. The we went on to Ollantaytambo- which thus far has been my favorite part of the whole trip. The scale of Ollantaytambo is amazing. The Incas were master builders and geniuses in city planning, I think they were also the first to utilize the concept of permaculture in designing their cities and towns. They get much credit for moving earth in their building processes but in reality they often seemed to build on what was already present and in the fashion in which the Earth was naturally rendered. It is a wonderful sight to see. The town of Ollantaytambo is also quite lovely, though we didn't get to spend much time in the town walking around, most of our time was spent in the ruins.

As a side note, I have always thought of myself as being in pretty good shape, but the altitude here is stifling. Climbing the hills and walking through the ruins requires a serious amount of concentration and lots of time resting and and drinking water.

January 30th- We arrive in Cusco!


After what felt like a secret mission through the dark Amazon night, and some minor flight delays in Lima we arrived in Cusco! Why did it feel like a secret mission leaving our home away from home on the Tahuayo? Well, we left at 1:30am on a boat to travel to Iquitos in order to make our early morning flight (we needed to be at the airport by 7:30am to check in). The Amazon is not a river to be boated lightly and we were all kept awake by the bumps and swales that rocked the boat as we traveled through the dark, humid night. However we arrived safely with our wonderful guides Christian, Orlando and Dolly still at our sides. In fact Christian stayed with Ben and I right up until we walked through the security gate! We will miss him so much while in Cusco! If you ever get to read this blog, "Hola Christian!!". The flights were pretty uneventful although we almost missed our flight out of Lima to Cusco, because first of all it was delayed, which was no big deal, but then I swear they never announced that the now delayed flight was boarding and if Ben hadn't noticed people milling around saying they were taking a shuttle to the plane sitting on the runway waiting to take them to Cusco we probably would have missed the flight! Arrggghh! But, we managed to make it safe and sound!

Cusco is lovely. It has a very European old world feel to it, and there are a lot of Americans and Europeans (maybe that is why! :) and lots of folks trying to sale you stuff everywhere you go! We had a whirlwind tour of the City and some of the Inca ruins today, the Cathedral, Sacsahuaman, Qorikancha, etc. Unfortunately we were pretty out of it having been awake for over 24 hours and suffering from a bit of altitude sickness so we will be re-visiting some of these sites on out day "off". In fact, we were so goofy when we got off to the plane and to our hotel, that we forgot the camera when we went sight-seeing, so no pictures from today!! Sorry!