Thursday, November 27, 2014

Traveling from Machu Picchu to Cusco

 It was another interesting night; we’ve discovered that there is a Karaoke Bar below us and the music plays until well past two o’clock in the morning.  To top it off after being so very careful with long sleeves and long pants yesterday; there was one of the dreaded tiny black flies in the room last night and I now have bites on my face and right arm….a dozen of them!  Like mosquito bites…not dangerous they say, just itchy!

By 6:30 am we were up and finished our packing.  Down to breakfast by 7:30 we enjoyed the company of three young ladies; two from France and one from Germany.  They’d climbed to the top of our mountain yesterday and shared their “hairy” tales with us; including that there were some people who’d climbed all the way up and then cried when they realized what they were going to have to do to get off of the mountain.   The down was much scarier than going up they said.  All three agreed that we were wise to stop when we did and that confirmed that we’d done the right thing.   We checked out of the hotel by 8:30 am and stored our three backpacks at the hotel for a few hours.

We walked towards the market area near the train to find something to take home.  I ended up with a refrigerator magnetic and Jim negotiated a great price on a small piece of Amethyst.  We walked in a new area near the train and found an absolutely beautiful hotel.  And, since the trains don’t run at night it would also be quiet!   Probably very expensive but beautiful.   I went inside and got a card so that I can look it up on the Internet for friends who might be going to visit Machu Picchu.

Soon it was about nine o’clock and we still had lots of time; out train doesn’t leave until 2:30 pm.  We found an empty bench overlooking the river that courses down the center of the village and watched the workers push cart after cart up the hill to the various restaurants and hotels.  There were propane gas canisters, huge bags of wheat, cases of beer, hundreds of bottles of water and sodas, etc.  You’re either going up or down in this town as there are very few level spaces with the exception of the soccer field.   Everything has to be brought in by train and it is at the bottom of the gorge; from there everything is moved with hand carts up to where it has to go. 

The sun was shining and it was getting warm on the bench so we walked back up to the hotel and got out our computers and books for a couple of hours.   Then back to the bench for more people watching and we also ate some of our snacks that we’d brought with us from Cusco.

Finally at one o’clock we checked in to the train station…had to show our tickets and passports to get inside.  There were benches, restrooms and refreshment stands there.  At 2:15 pm they announced the trains and we boarded our Inca Rail train for the hour and a half journey back to Ollantaytambo.   There were several tour groups so they easily filled the five cars on the train.  In talking with one of the passengers we learned that one of the tour groups was Overseas Adventure Travel; one of our favorites.  We had assigned seats and had no idea who would be sharing out table.   Soon they arrived; Michelle and Steve from Michigan.  
We never seemed to run out of conversation.  Steve is a twin…identical, but I didn’t hold that against him!  Twins always love meeting other twins!   They have a daughter back home and talked about what fun it was to FaceTime with her this morning.  Steve is headed home soon and Michelle is staying in Lima for a conference.  We shared experiences on climbing the mountains yesterday.  They were unable to get tickets for the one we climbed so went up the big tall mountain that is called Machu Picchu instead.  They got a late start and were disappointed when they found out that they were too late to go to the top; it closed early in order to get everyone down in a timely manner.  So, like us, they had wonderful photos but can’t say that they reached the top.  The big difference is that they are young enough to come back someday and make it to the top!

We said our goodbyes and headed for one of the many bus/vans waiting for passengers heading for Cusco.  They’d pre-ordered a taxi so had an easier, but much more expensive, ride into Cusco where they are spending the night.  We had to wait half an hour for the next train to arrive before we had a full bus but for ten soles each (about $3.00) it was worth the wait.  A taxi will cost you anywhere from fifty to more than a hundred depending on how well you negotiate with the driver.  Took a few photos along the way including a sunset for the slideshow.  
By 6:30 pm we were back in Cusco and walked the three block to our hotel; good to stretch the legs, and then enjoyed a big smile on the clerk when they saw us arrive.  Unpacked the bags and organized the room before heading to the restaurant where we each enjoyed a beer.  I ordered a Hawaiian Pizza to share with Jim and he also ordered an omelet that came with rice.  Perfect amount of food.
It’s going on ten o’clock and I’m looking forward to a quiet sleep and relaxing day tomorrow. 

Hope you enjoy the few photos in the slideshow and that each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day today with family and loved ones.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Visiting the Ruins and climbing the mountain at Machu Picchu

Our trip to the not quite lost city of the Inca’s:  Machu Picchu was successful today.  The Spanish never knew about this city when they arrived because it was buried by the jungle until Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1910.   The Incas abandoned the site because Pachacuti, the Inca Ruler who built the village high up on the mountain, died from Smallpox along with many of his family and other royal followers.  Smallpox spread throughout Peru when it was introduced as one of many diseases by the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived from Europe.   Machu Picchu was a royal retreat that the lower classes knew nothing about and by the time the Spanish arrived in this area; it was forgotten and covered by the jungle high in the mountains.

Before I begin our day let me say to Leslie in Oregon and my old friend Susan from Virginia…thanks so much for adding a comment to let me know that you are enjoying my blogs.  Check the day you commented for a personal response.  It’s always fun to know that people are enjoying the blogs.

Our day began very early this morning as we ate breakfast before seven o’clock and got on the bus about 7:15 am.   It was a bouncing twenty-five minute ride up the mountain, around hairpin curves that sometimes put you right on the edge of a straight drop if you dared to look down…all the way to the entrance to the Park that is slowly restoring many of the buildings in this ancient village high in the mountains.

By 8:30 am we were checked through the gates, having to show our tickets that we purchased four months ago on the Internet, and our passports.   We actually got a stamp in our passport book when we left later in the afternoon.  

The only facilities are at the entrance and we made use of them.  Jim had a touch of King Pachauit’s Revenge just before we started our walk through the ruins.   Fortunately we were still at the restrooms; but it definitely affected the rest of our day. 
We took the next hour to stroll up and down the steps and paths through the village that is slowly being restored by workers so that you can get a real feel for the houses other than just foundation ruins.   During our walk we met Paul and Colleen from the train ride yesterday; they were just heading out after having arrived at seven am for the climb up the mountain.  Our tickets gave us the entrance to hike up the Waynapucchi Mountain also.  Thousands of visitors arrive each day to visit this park; but only four hundred can climb the mountain.  There is a second larger mountain behind the village which you can climb also but it is much higher and a longer hike.  They allow two hundred people on the mountain between seven am and ten am.  Then at ten am another two hundred are allowed to enter.  Everyone has to be off of the mountain by one o’clock.

Our entrance time was at ten o’clock so we had a nice rest outside of the entrance to the trail for nearly an hour before hiking up.  During that time we each removed one of our two shirts that we had on.  We’d expected possible rain according to the weather report but the sun was shining and it was hot.  I was tempted to leave the short sleeved shirt on but after a few minutes I discovered the tiny flying bugs that bite that I’d read about.  So I switched (thank goodness for the undershirt I had on) to the long sleeved with tight cuffs and tight at the neck…warm but better than bites…and tucked the bottom of my pants into my socks.  Worked like a charm!  As usual I was in my sandals but with socks.   Others were slathering bug protection on themselves because of the bugs that were biting.

That's our mountain we climbed in the background
During this wait we also met the people from Florida from the train station yesterday, Linda and Padro; they were just visiting the ruins today and will hike the taller mountain tomorrow.   It was so much to see them again.  They’d taken an earlier train yesterday than we did. 
We signed in at ten o’clock, so they can make sure everyone comes back out before they close; and began the hike.  You also have to sign out when you return.  So glad that the hotel where we are staying loaned us hiking poles; can’t imagine how we would have made the climb without them.  Up and down the trails we went.  At times there were cables to help on the tougher spots.  We took our time and stopped often; and we were not alone.   During our rests we took photos for other people and they in turn took our photo.    Normally it takes about two hours for a young person to go to the top and return if the weather is good.  We met many middle aged people who were on their way down who’d started at seven am.  

By about 11:30 am we were two-thirds of the way up.  The path was getting steeper and steeper and very irregular.  I went ahead up one more while Jim waited and when I got there I discovered a wonderful view of the ruins below.  I called out to Jim about the wonderful view and he also made the climb and we enjoyed the view while we chatted with groups as they were descending.  We had a chocolate bar with us and shared it with a couple from England.    Everyone discouraged us from going any higher.  They said it got much worst and dangerous and the view wasn’t much more than what we had at that spot.  I don’t think we saw anyone quite as old as we are on the trail.   Everyone was great at helping us and saying how great it was that we were doing the climb.

Taken telephoto from our highest spot on the mountain
But we took the advice and turned around at that point.  It was much faster back and by 12:30 we were off the mountain and back into the park.  We did a bit more viewing of the ruins close up simply because it was the only way to get back to the park entrance.  We were both drained by the time we climbed on the bus to go back down to the village near the train station that is called Aqua Caliente (because of the hot springs) and also Machu Picchu Pueblo.   The line was long at the bus stop as many were going down the hill but they were well organized and it moved fast.  There were buses leaving every few minutes.  They raced down the hill; sometimes having to back up to let the one coming back empty to pass on the one lane road.  We saw many young people hiking down the trail that leads from the village below to the park.  The bus ticket is expensive for the young and they have the energy to make the hike.  

We were down and back to our hotel by two o’clock.   We stopped on the walk up to the hotel to pick up an ice cold bottle of coke for Jim; he really needed it by now.  We’d both drank our water sparingly during the trip for many reasons!

Hot showers as soon as we arrived and we felt ever so much better.  I had over three hundred fifty photos on my camera…I’ve only posted 103 for you on the slideshow.   So the afternoon was spent selecting and uploading photos along with just plain relaxing.  We are spending another night in our hotel and then will catch the train out tomorrow afternoon.  Then the bus to Cusco where we’ll enjoy another few days before boarding the plane to California.

We ventured out just a short walk tonight for a yummy dessert:  lemon pie and hot chocolate.  Delicious.  While we were there two Americans came in for dessert; Texas and Oregon.   They’ve been doing lots of backpacking and camping here in Peru.  We chatted for a bit and I’ve included a photo of the backpacks in the slideshow. 

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family....
Another day is nearly over; I hope you enjoy the slideshow below.   If you have trouble viewing the slideshow you can go directly with this link:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Trip to Machu Picchu

Today began at six am when the alarm clock went off!   We had breakfast at 6:30 and were in the taxi to the bus station by 7 am.  We arrived by 7:15 and there was only room for one more person in the bus that they were currently filling.  So we stepped aside and got into the next bus.  Good news is choice seats right behind the driver, bad news was that it took half an hour to fill all fourteen seats.  We ended with thirteen passengers, a large box occupied one seat and a couple held a cute little baby girl.  We were the only non-Peruvians in the bus, but the mother of the little girl spoke English. 

We had the same bus driver that we had last week on the return trip and he didn’t waste a minute.  However, he was sure to slow down for speed bumps, you’ll find one in the slideshow!    The little girl was a doll as the parents took turns holding her; but even the cartoon on the cell phone didn’t keep her quiet after the first hour.  We notice that there are now many more freshly tilled fields ready for planting and young crops already coming up in many of the fields.  Saw some fields of beautiful flowers mixed in with the corn crops.  It was an hour and forty-five minute trip from Cusco to Ollantaytambo where the train station is located that we took to Machu Picchu.  As soon as we entered the city the van slowed down to a crawl; all of the streets were cobblestones. 
We were at the train station by 9:30 am.  Our train didn’t leave until 11:15, so we have a bit of time to kill.  But, I love to be early and with the unknown factor of the bus trip; Jim humored me and didn’t complain too much when he realized just how early I had him there.  He loves to arrive on time, not early and not late.  But once we entered the train station we first found a couple from Florida.  The husband was from Spain and they’d lived in Spain ten years.  She was a Spanish teacher before retiring and speaks the language beautifully.   They got on the 10:15 train.  Then we went into the station waiting room and found comfortable seats, clean and free rest rooms and a refreshment bar.  There was a man dressed as an Inca Warrior and he played beautiful and haunting music on his pan flute.    We realized that we were hearing more English than we’ve heard since we arrived.   

Our train, the 11:15 Inca Rail arrived right on time and we boarded.  It was a short train of only three cars.  Because of the off season we’d been able to upgrade to the Executive Coach for the same price as the regular coach.  We even were served a snack and a drink during the trip.  The train took about an hour and a half traveling through farmland, valleys and finally into deep gorges with one beautiful waterfall crashing down the side of the mountain into the stream filled with rapids along the foot of the mountains.  Soon we noticed that the foliage became very thick and jungle-like as we neared our destination.   Our seatmates were Americans from Chicago, Paul and Colleen.  Paul works six months and travels six months each year; we should all be so fortunate.   Colleen has a busy career that involves regular travel but from a home base.  She still manages to meets Paul at various places around the world regularly.   Delightful and true travelers … definitely not tourists.  Most of their travels this year are in South America; but there are few places they haven’t enjoyed.   I encouraged Paul to begin writing a blog as his stories and travel tips would be an inspiration to many.   This is his second trip to Machu Picchu, he visited thirteen years ago, and they will travel to Columbia after Peru.
Our first challenge after departing the train was to locate our hotel; Denny’s House.  After stopping several people, one finally took us to a policeman to pointed up the street and said turn right.  This is the street alongside of the river than runs through the village.  We headed up to where he’d pointed and just before we turned we saw the sign for the hotel.  We are on the second floor and overlook housing and construction but it will be much quieter than the crashing river in rooms on the front of the hotel. 

We walked down to the area where we will be catching our bus tomorrow morning that will take us up the mountain to the base of the ruins.  There we purchased our roundtrip ticket for tomorrow.  We could use USA Dollars as long as they were in good shape.  Fortunately, I had several tucked away and we paid $19.00 roundtrip for each of us.   We also found an ice cream shop and enjoyed a cone.  We were surprised to find a Paris food shop with all types of French food including croissants, the first we’ve seen on our stay in Peru.  What we really wanted to find were walking poles for the trek tomorrow.  Not one shop in the village that we could find.  But when we returned to the Hotel the clerk found two poles that were in the storage area and has loaned them to us for tomorrow.  Be aware…don’t wait until you get here to rent your walking poles.  They were everywhere in Cusco but we thought we’d be able to rent them for only one day here instead of three days in Cusco.  Wrong!

We discovered that we are right next to the beautiful soccer field complete with artificial turf and lights.  We had a parade of school children this afternoon; not sure what the theme was about but they seem to have fun.  There are hot springs here that are very popular with the visitors but we sent our swimming suits home from Florida.  A fun item is the size of the paper napkins that are used; they are one quarter of the size of a standard paper napkin.   Paper must be very precious in Peru. 

It’s going on six o’clock now and we’re heading out for some dinner.  I’ve found Cuy (Guinea Pig); but they only serve whole ones and it’s too much for one person.  Jim refuses to even be at the table if I order it so guess I may have to forgo tasting the favorite special dish of Peru. 
When we return I’ll post this and attach the slideshow….stay tuned for tomorrow…if it rains who knows what will happen!