Tooling Around The Sacred Valley

Trip Start Mar 17, 2006
Trip End Apr 02, 2006

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Thursday, March 23, 2006

I realize it's been a couple of days and so as a result I have a lot to catch you all up on. I'll most likely miss some stuff, but I'll do my best to get it all in...and whatever I do miss, I'll be sure to add later - sound good?

So yesterday, as predicted, we were up crack of freaking dawn early. I think the wake-up call was for 5am and I'm pretty sure I was up before that call came through not having slept terribly well. Nancy and I both had a hard time going to sleep which we think was due to the coca tea we had at dinner which apparently helps with acclimation, but is also a stimulant which should certainly be taken into consideration if one is planning to drink it right before one intends on turning in. So that'll learn us, I suppose.

The ride to the Juliaca airport was quite an interesting one...or perhaps "hair-raising" would be a better descriptor. It was about a 45 minute drive from Puno through crowded city streets, narrowly missing children and dogs alike, and passing slower moving vehicles with barely time to avoid a head-on collision. We were doing about 80 km/hour the whole way (I could see the speedometer) which I'm not exactly sure how fast that is in mph, but figure it's probably just as well.

Juliaca airport was probably one of the smaller airports I've ever been to having only 2 gates, but it was relatively efficient and I think our total flight time back to Cuzco was only about 30 minutes. We grabbed a cab and were back to the Prisma Hotel before noon, I think. We then proceeded to take naps, but I was back up about an hour and half later and snuck out of the room to see about making a quick phone call to check on my grandfather as well as do a quick email scan for anything of importance.

While I was sitting at the computer in the lobby, a group of people came piling in and then proceeded to take seats together at a long table just behind me. I knew that the group that Nancy and I were supposed to meet up with should have been flying in around noon or so and so I was wondering if this was, in fact, them. Turned out it was... So I joined them at the table and listened to our guide, Carlos, give a brief overview of what the next few days were going to look like followed by some quick instructions on how to help yourself acclimatize. Nancy wandered down and joined us as well (having been awoken from her nap when the front desk called to inform her that they had all arrived - the little dears).

After the little meeting, it was hard to tell what (if anything) the rest of the group was up for doing since everyone pretty much retreated to their rooms. Nancy and I took up our duffle bags upstairs and worked on packing them a bit (we were all given specific duffle bags that we were to pack for the Inca Trail and told to keep it within a certain weight limit), then we decided to head out and try and take in some of the cathedral tours in Cuzco which we hadn't yet felt like doing.

Don't hate me, but here's where my memory gets fuzzy and I really need to go back and pull out my ticket stubs because I can't for the life of me remember which cathedral we toured first... The second one I remember more because it was a church that was built over Inca ruins, but even there the name escapes me... In any case, the first cathedral was really magnificent. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures because we weren't permitted to take any indoors, but I was quite impressed with the alter work, paintings, etc. - really brilliant it was, and very different from what I've seen in other cathedrals in the US or Europe. On that tour, we ended up with one of the girls that's a part of our group for The Trail (named Eve), so afterwards we went onto the second cathedral (the one built on Inca ruins) and then back to the hotel for a quick rest before heading out to dinner.

Dinner was probably the most fun dining experience we've had yet. Eve came with us as well as another member of our group (Marissa) and we hit a restaurant that was recommended to us by the front desk of the hotel which they said had good food and local music. I can't so much speak for the food since I didn't eat (Eve had a guinea pig which I have to admit that I tasted...yes, I know, having had a guinea pig for a pet when I was young, I really struggled with that decision, but felt that in the interest of all things local, I should try it). Anyhow the music was great - two local bands played Peruvian music (which is often very reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel which, we were informed, Peruvian music is where Simon & Garfunkel got some of their inspiration) and they even had dancers come out some of the time including two men dressed as wolf-like demons or something who proceeded to pay special attention to our table (4 gorgeous women, who can blame them?).

This morning was one of moderate excitement (at least for me) since it was the day we were finally checking out of the hotel and leaving Cuzco, gearing up for The Trail.

Carlos came for us at 9am with a van and we all piled in and proceeded to drive out to The Sacred Valley of the Incas. What an amazing drive...seriously unbelievable. We saw some ruins and got a good walking tour of them, stopped in Pisca (sp?) for lunch and market shopping, and then finished up the day checking into our hotel here in Ollantaytambo (meaning "resting place of Ollan") where we also visited the ruins here and then walked around a bit before having dinner (about 8 of us had dinner together at a little local place not far from the hotel). This valley is just unreal... And I don't mean to downplay the ruins at all, but frankly the stunning scenery really sort of overshadowed everything else for me. The mountains are amazingly dramatic - I can't even really liken them to anything... Alaskan mountains are stunning, of course, and not that the Peruvian Andes are MORE stunning, but they're just stunning in a completely different way. I've just never seen anything like them.

Before arriving at the hotel, we stopped at a little bar along the way and got to try one of the local specialties - a type of beer made from corn. Wasn't my favorite thing, but I'm glad it works for them. There was also a room full of guinea pigs - raised to be eaten, of course, but that was still something to see.

Tonight's dinner was also a treat because we got to know some more members of the group better and really had a good time. I was also relieved to find out that they all seem to be just as nervous about the Inca Trail as I am, apparently having also read all kinds of dreadful things about how hard it is, etc. especially after some of the hiking around ruins we did today (did I mention that one guidebook actually called Day 2 "grueling"?!). The hiking today was a good warm-up, I'm sure - and one thing that was actually good to find for myself was that, though I got out of breath relatively fast in the altitude, as soon as we stopped to rest, I recovered very quickly. Hopefully that will continue to be true of me through the next four days!

Okay, I think that's really it for now... I'm kinda tired and we're up and out at 8am tomorrow heading for the trailhead. We're all excited, I think, and I want to make sure that my excitement doesn't keep me awake too late tonight.

I won't be able to post another update until at least Sunday which is when we reach Machu Picchu so just know that for the next few days, I'll be on The Inca Trail.

Wish me luck!
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