27 May 2010

My Inca Trail

Cusco and Machu Pichu were the two main points of interest for me in Peru, and I have experienced both. My Peruvian experience, however, started with Puno on Lago Titicaca.

I crossed the border and arrived in Puno late at night, expecting to spend only one night and day there. After a very cheap room, I enjoyed some fruit salad for breakfast and a naval museum; it is interesting really, because Lake Titicaca is large enough and straddles two countries, it has active navies for both Bolivia and Peru.

A short boat ride took me out on Lake Titicaca, and onto the floating islands Uros. While the indigenous tribe who lives on the islands has become a tourist destination, they have their roots in a society which subsisted entirely on fish, eggs, and that which they could grow. During my visit, I enjoyed their incredible views and started the process of purchasing all the souvenirs, etc. I need to represent 5 months of travel.

A night bus to Cusco followed, with a day of rest and planning for Machu Pichu. Cusco is incredible, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas (I believe), and it shows. The city itself is built on foundations of beautifully pieced together blocks, the roads are cobblestone, and the churches, markets, and archways all have that thick layer of oldness to them. Just outside, and actually everywhere in this region, is a couple of ruins which provided an interesting day trip during that day of planning; Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay were thus enjoyed.

The next day, My Inca Trail began. I chose to go to Machu Pichu guideless, by local buses, with some hiking, saving and allowing my own time schedules and exploration. The buses include a 7hr ride to Santa Maria, a 2 hour taxi to Santa Teresa and a different half hour taxi to the trail head, all traveling through high altitude rain forests and stopping for lunch and dinner along the way. The trail head actually consists of a cable car, or rather a single cable where a hanging car gets guided across with myself and backpack. A three and half hour hike later and I arrived at Aguas Calientes at 930pm, the staging point for Machu Pichu.

The first day in Aguas Calientes, I chose to rest with a visit to the museum and a freezing cold waterfall. I enjoyed both, but was a little cold during the latter. An early night led to an earlier morning, with a grueling uphill climb to start the day. It truly is a race, because only the first 200 people get a ticket for the Waynu Pichu mountain. I made it, and stood at the gate of the historical site of Machu Pichu.

The gates opened just before sunrise, and the mob spread out to find a locale to enjoy the coming warmth. The first thing I noticed was the incredible size; there were areas where I could enjoy with little to no interruption from the perhaps 2000 people who visitied the same day as me. I chose the pedestal at the center of the park, and got an incredible sunrise over the mountains to the east. I was a month short from the Solstice and shortest day of the year (remember, Southern Hemisphere), and the sun, pedestal, and carvings were almost aligned in the incredible way the Incas built their city so long ago.

A short nap on a precarious ledge later, and my time slot for Waynu Pichu was upon me. I made some friends with a brother/sister combination from India, and enjoyed the hike with them. It gave us the uninterrupted views of the park seen so often in pictures and postcards, as well as some neat caves to get stuck in (Incas were short).

I spent the late afternoon finishing my book (the science fiction thriller Dune, if you're wondering) and watching two female chess champions battle it out at one of the vistas. The same hike as that morning, but down followed with a very relaxing night. Another day of travel and I reached Cuzco once more, where I still am.

Since Machu Pichu, I have met up with a friend who began an apartment in Cuzco for one month. I enjoyed an incredible night of sleep in his new place and then a crazy night of dancing. I am now making plans to move on right now.

Somethings Interesting:

--Things people are not just selling, but have interrupted my stride or meal to try and sell: sunglasses (while wearing some), band aids, pens, tours, printed out pictures to fill in with colors, to take a picture with the person, drugs, soup, any article of clothing, massages, gum, shoeshines (while I wear sandals), and string bracelets.

--Machu Pichu is actually (about) 1500 meters lower in elevation than Cuzco.

--The hippie community San Blas represents the local draft dodgers who never left. I had a delicious vegetarian meal here.

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