Lots of Inca ruins

Trip Start Jul 12, 2006
Trip End Aug 23, 2006

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Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Okay first of all, I should answer Molly's urgent question about the guide who was attacked by the bull: he was fine; no blood, no broken bones, only a little pain in his back--or so he claimed. He even got up and threw a rock at the bull after it had walked a little further away. But he had terrible throwing form and the bull gave him an are-you-kidding-me look, then kept walking.

Now that thatīs been cleared up, a brief recap of my activities since my last posting:
-After spending Friday in Lima I went out with three Peruvian girls in Barranco--what my Lonely Planet guidebook describes as, ''Lima's Bohemian district.'' I'm not really sure what made it Bohemian, but it was a cool little area with lots of bars and live music, etc. It was a fun night which ended with a trip to a late-night fastfood place in Miraflores. Somethings are the same all over the world.
-I took a flight from Lima to Cuzco on Saturday morning (it was an hour, as opposed to a 20-hour bus ride, and cost roughly $40 more--a good deal if you ask me. Which I guess is why I flew). I got to my hostel around noon and got my things organized, then spent the afternoon wandering around the city. Itīs a great place--despite everything being targeted at the huge numbers of tourists here--with lots of colonial churches and plazas. And thereīs really good hot chocolate. Anyway, I had read about this Irish bar here and was craving a Guiness so I went there around 5pm, only to find that a Guiness costs S./ 15, which ridiculous for a beer here. But I really want a Guiness so I might go have one before I leave tonight (Iīm taking a 16-hour bus to La Paz, Bolivia at 10pm tonight). So instead of a delicious Guiness I had a not-as-delicious Cusqueņa, which is brewed right here in Cuzco. The place wasnīt very crowded and I struck up a conversation with the English bartender, Glenn (he's volunteering here, building an orphanage in the mornings). Long story short he's a very friendly guy and I met a few other people through him, including Natalie, Linda, Claire, and Jody, who are volunteering here (they help get underpriveliged children up to par on reading/writing/arithmetic/etc. so they can get into the state school system). I ended up hanging out with them that night for dinner, which was great seeing as they're good people and the alternative was eating alone.
-I left Sunday morning on a bus for Ollantaytambo, where there is a large Inca ruin (Iīll upload some pictures). It's a pretty cool place--lots of tourists again, but I found a path running away from the main site which climbed high above. I hiked up that to a small ruin, which looked like it may have been a ceremonial site. There were only two people up there--a Peruvian guy who had hiked up there when he was five (he was at least 30 now) and his girlfriend/wife. I kept going up and got a great view of the valley and the river below.
-I took the evening train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, from where you can go up to Machu Picchu. I donīt have much to say about Aguas Calientes, other than that everything is overpriced and you canīt walk down the street without being accosted by the people who stand outside their restaurants and shove their menus in your face.
-I woke up around 5:30am on Monday morning so that I could change my return train ticket and then walk up to Machu Picchu. Changing the ticket took longer than expected so I didnīt leave Aguas Calientes until 7:15. The guidebook says it's supposed to take an hour and a half to walk to Machu Picchu--because I was running behind (I wanted to see the site before the sun burned off all the mist) I considered taking the bus (20 minutes), but then came to my senses when I saw that it costs $15. So I decided to walk quickly. Aguas Calientes is at the very bottom of the valley, and Machu Picchu is on top of one of the mountains there. The walk up is a seemingly endless set of stone stairs which don't bother to use the switchback technique employed by the road. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) I was sweating profusely after about 15 steps. But I ended getting to Machu Picchu jus after 8:00 so I was happy with the effort.
-I really can't say anything to truly capture the beauty of Machu Picchu, especially in the morning. I got past the ticket gate and walked up a short steep path to have the entire site revealed. The mist was suspended just above while the sun sat off to the right and Huayna Picchu rose up like a tooth behind the city. I headed for Huayna Picchu since they only let 400 of the permitted 1000 visitors go up every day. After another steep climb up endless stone steps, I was rewarded with an elevated view of the entire city of Machu Picchu. I spent some time perched on a rock at the top sitting and admiring (along with about 10 other tourists) before heading down a trail which goes down the backside of the mountain to the Temple of the Moon. The Temple of the Moon is underwhelming compared to the rest of the site but as I walked into the clearing in which it sits, I got a sudden vision of ceremonies being held here at night. It was obvioulsy my imagination, but the site is wrought with a mysterious atmosphere in which it is easy to imagine fires and drums and shadows and sacrifices.
-After the Temple of the Moon I returned to the main site of Machu Picchu and spent a couple of hours walking around and pirating pieces of information from the tour groups suffocating the area.
-I left the site after spending nearly 6 hours there feeling tired, sunburned, dehydrated, and coated with dirt sticking to dried sweat. In other words, I felt great--which is probably why I paid the 15 soles for a sandwich (compared to the 6 or 7 one would cost in Cuzco) and another 7 for a small bottle of water. This was the cheapest option available at the top; to satisfy my curiosity, I asked how much the posh buffet cost--$27 per person. I hope the hostess didnīt think I was laughing at her after she told me this.
-I walked back down to Aguas Calientes, where I found a 3-for-1 Happy Hour special on Cusqueņa while I waited for my train back to Ollantaytambo. On the way back down the steps I was passed by a brightly-dressed boy every five minutes or so. It took three boys running by shouting, ''ĄHola!'' before I decided to get my camera out, and before I figured out what they were doing: they were racing the buses to the bottom, where there is a bridge across the river.
-I rode the train back to Ollantaytambo, got a colectivo (a cheap shared taxi that doesnīt leave until it is full) to Cuzco, and walked back to the hostel (I should note here that the hostel is not accesible by car because of the steep steps leading to it. Between this and Machu Picchu, I donīt think Iīve ever walked up so many steps in my whole life.) Anyway, I got to the hostel ready for a shower and a change of clothes. I had made a reservation with the older man who works there before I left, when I left my big backpack in their storage area. But Mumbles (the old man who works there) told me that there wasnīt any room there and that I didnīt have a reservation--that's the short version. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out what exactly he was saying, which also included that there was a similar hostel just down the road. So, slightly annoyed, I walked there and found a very pleasant family-run hostel which was cheaper and nicer. I guess I lucked out. I showered and changed clothes and headed for a bar near the main plaza where Glenn and Natalie & Co. had told me there would be a pub quiz night (popular in England--Stanford people, itīs just like the one at Rose & Crown--good times) to raise money for the school where Natalie & Co. volunteer. I got there a little late but Glennīs team needed another person so I joined and had fun hanging out and guessing at the answers to questions I had no idea about.
-I slept in yesterday (Tuesday) and spent the day exploring more of the city, calling home (finally), getting a bus ticket and going to three bookstores before settling on a Ray Bradbury book (Something Wicked This Way Comes--the choice of books in English leaves something to be desired), then getting dinner with Glenn and Natalie at a really good Israeli restaurant which is hidden on a side street--it doesnīt have a sign outside.
-I'm hanging out this afternoon after going up to an Inca ruin just above Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman, this morning. My bus to La Paz leaves at 10pm, so hopefully I'll have that Guiness before I leave.
-Finally, thanks to everyone who has sent me emails--I like reading about whatīs going on in everyone else's lives so please keep sending them. Okay, I'll try to upload some pictures.
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