And the real journey begins..
Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
99Trip End May 04, 2007
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Suecia II is a decent, clean, very basic hostel. I am paying 30 soles (a little under ten bucks) for a private room with two twin beds and a private bath (think boat shower), and although it has been just fine I was initially a little disappointed...It is very quiet, which is good as I need rest before my trek, but I am also relying on hostels as a way to meet people and I have rarely seen anyone here! Somewhat strange as the hostal is fully booked. I soon heard of two "party" hostels that seemed to promise a bit more social activity. I would have moved but there wasn't anything really terrible about mine, I wasn't up for heavy boozing anyway and I am the queen of laziness, so Suecia II it was for three nights.
I slept from 9 am - 12 pm, then took forever to shower and get organized before I finally went out in search of food. I wandered through Plaza de Armas
I headed to the South American Explorers office nearby to get some info on Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
After the office closed at 5, I went to the Peru Treks office to pay the rest of my Inca Trail fee and get all of the necessary info for my upcoming trek. I was able to get another ten bucks off the price with my SAE membership which was nice. It was not so cool, however, to hear once again that it was utterly impossible for me to hire a personal porter, and that my group is HUGE. Fifteen people and two guides! So between that, my shoes not being so great and my raincoat zipper being broken, things aren't looking so hot. Why did I not get a porter?! I suppose when you're booking something like this months and months in advance it's hard to fully realize what you're getting yourself into. I was in great shape, and thought it would be hard but not miserably so and thus should spend my money on other things. It's not such a big deal. There are plenty of others in my group carrying their own packs, and apparently I can hire an unofficial porter on the fly for the second and possibly third days of the trek if necessary. We'll see...
SAE was having a Sapo event (in case you don't know, sapo is a game that involves trying to throw gold coins into a frogs mouth) at a nearby bar that night, and although I was still exhausted from my fun night in Lima I figured I should try to be social. I ended up having a great night. Sumaq Misky was giving out free drinks (large beers, rum or vodka), which blew me away as I had not seen free drinks anywere on my trip until then. I later found out that all the clubs on the Plaza de Armas give out free drink coupons on Friday and Saturday nights. The one catch in this case was that the free drinks ended as soon as someone went to the bathroom. I wasn't drinking, but everyone else managed to hold out for quite some time! The crowd was fairly small--mainly SAE volunteers (almost all English women) and a few other members--but we had a fun time together. It was really nice to be hanging out with other people instead of sitting by myself in my bare, depressing room.
Although I am very social, I sometimes feel a little awkward when I arrive at a party or a bar and do not know anyone. I am not shy and certainly not quiet so it is frustrating when for whatever reason I suddenly have trouble talking to strangers. However, since I am traveling alone I obviously need to get over that, so I walked into Sumaq Misky by myself and immediately introduced myself to one of the other SAE members sitting at the bar, this really hilarious guy named Dave. He graduated from Stanford (undergrad and grad) and in November 2005 he began his solo biking trip (as in road biking) from Palo Alto all the way down to Ushuaia in Argentina. Yeah, really hard core. I can't imagine being on a bike for a year, let alone for two. My butt hurts just thinking about my four hours biking in Banos. He is biking to raise awareness for the environment (something having to do with his studies), and is giving talks along the way. It was awesome to hear about his experiences so far. I especially loved how he has been staying with firemen for most of the time (since it is free and allows him to interact with locals), and camping on people's lawns the rest of the time. When he gets down to Patagonia he is going to fly back to the East Coast and then bike all around the states sharing his experiences in South America. Pretty hard core.
Around 10:30 a bunch of us headed to Ukuku's, a bar next door with live music. A Peruvian woman was supposed to be playing, but instead there was this awful Peruvian rock band...definitely not my scene. Dave and the women we were with kept trying to get me to drink with them and go dancing at another club, but I was fading and finally had to duck out at 11:30. I did want to see something of Cusco the following morning after all...
I woke up early on Saturday morning and couldn't fall back asleep...story of my life. I had a couple hours to kill before I could head over to SAE to drop off my storage, so I went to this cute little Israeli restaurant a block away from my hostel called Victor Victoria. It was awesome, and eating a nice, hearty breakfast there has become my morning Cusco ritual. I had some great coffee (finally!), an endless bowl of oatmeal with bananas and sugar, bread with butter and jam, and an egg for 8 1/2 soles (under 3 bucks). As I was finishing up, I met a fellow Californian, a 54 year-old, recently retired guy name Gary from LA. We chatted a bit and found out that we were both planning on visiting the Inca ruins at Tambo Machay, Puka Pukara, Qenko, and Saqsayhuaman today. Most people take a cab or bus up to Tambo Machay (about 20 minutes away) and then walk back to town in order to hit all the sights. We decided to split a cab, and ended up spending the entire day together, until about 6 pm. I never would have thought that I would pick up a 54 year-old male travel companion, but he is really awesome. He's very laid back and fun, and I enjoyed hearing about his experiences in the Peace Corps in Kenya among other things and having company during the long walk back to Cusco. He has been traveling for the past several months, and is heading back to LA in December to attend his 23 year-old daughter's wedding.
After dropping off my stuff at SAE and buying my tourist ticket (good for ten days for entrance into a number of ruins and sights in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, 35 soles with my ISIC card as opposed to 70!), we hopped in a cab up to Tambo Machay. The ruins were nice, as were those at Puka Pukara (a hunting lodge),
We headed down the mountain towards Sacsayhuaman, and on the way met the most adorable Peruvian girl as we asked for directions.
We were not planning on hiring one of the many guides that kept offering their services as we wandered around (Gary doesn't speak Spanish), but during one of the many downpours that afternoon (clearly the weather was all over the place) we sought shelter under a ledge and ended up getting roped into a tour.
Around 2:30, Gary and I headed back to town. I am still amazed that I did not slip and fall, as the paths were incredibly steep and slick from the rain, and my shoes were not exactly ideal for the occasion. We grabbed some lunch at Inca Fe, a small restaurant near the SAE office. We both got the set menu, which was okay but super greasy. We ran into Becca there, a really cool English woman who I had met in the SAE office in Quito and she joined us for a bit. We ended up running into her three more times later on in the day--Cusco is a really small town! Or at least all the tourists tend to stick to the same areas, not straying too far from Plaza de Armas.
After lunch, we explored San Blas, an area up on a hill with lots of crafts stores and cute restaurants, did a little food shopping and then visited the Santa Ana Market near the train station. It's huge and I LOVE food markets so I had a great time. As much as I would have loved to have seen it in the light with all the colorful goods more visible (as it was getting dark and many people were starting to close up shop), it was nice to go without all of the tourists and I got some great pics of the meat department.
Gary and I parted ways shortly thereafter, and I headed back to my hostel. Peru Treks dropped off the most massive sleeping bag I have ever seen (since I am renting from them) and I proceeded to completely freak out, as I have no clue how I am going to carry it. I suppose I can put it underneath my pack--don't really have a choice, as it takes up the entire main compartment of my pack. I called the Peru Treks office ten minutes before closing and the guy thought I was a complete nut case (well, because I am of course) and 6 soles and ten minutes later (so damn expensive for a local call!) after having been lectured by the guy about how great the sleeping bag is etc I finally hung up and was no better off than before. I am so nervous about this trek, it is driving me crazy. This is supposed to be fun for God's sake. I need to chill out. It will all work out.
Sunday morning I ran into Gary again at Victor Victoria. We enjoyed a very leisurely breakfast together (this time I had "el tropical," a huge bowl of museli with honey, fruit and yogurt, coffee, and this incredible banana juice made with cream, which has become my regular meal here, while Gary always gets "el americano" with eggs and these awesome thick heart-shaped pancakes), and by 9 am were off to the bus station to catch a ride to Pisac, a wonderful town about 45 minutes away with a great market on Sundays and some incredible ruins.
I went to Govinda for dinner, a cute vegetarian place that I later found out is a Peruvian chain, and ran into Becca there. We had a lovely dinner together, 12 soles for a HUGE five course set menu with tea. I really like Becca--we really clicked, and I hope that I will be able to meet up with her later on after I get back to Cusco or perhaps in Bolivia. Now it is 9:30 pm and I have to get up in 7 hours to begin my Inca Trail trek. I am basically packed and still freaking out about a billion different things that I didn't do or don't have or that don't work etc, but at this point I just have to go to bed because I can't do anything about any of this now. I am praying for at least semi-decent weather and that I have a good time. It's all about attitude though, so I am trying to shut out all of my negative thoughts and focus on the fact that I am about to do something incredibly difficult but also very rewarding and special!
Where I stayed