Cusco

November 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I had a great trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu with three friends from Dartmouth. We all arrived on a Thursday and spent two days adjusting to the higher altitude and exploring the city. Cusco is definitely the most commercial of the cities I’ve visited in Peru (outside of Lima) which has its good and its bad. On the plus side, there are lots of artesania shops where you can find wool and alpaca products and great jewelry, and there are lots of good restaurants which gave me a nice break from the food in site. On the down side, you can’t be two minutes in a public place without someone interrupting whatever you are doing to try to sell you something. I had several instances where people tried to overcharge me for things, and I’m guessing it usually works. Between poor Spanish speaking skills, and trivial price changes on things that already seem ‘cheap’, most tourists either don’t notice or don’t care if they are charged a few extra soles. It got a bit frustrating, but otherwise it was an exceptional trip.

Early Saturday morning (4am early) we were bussed out of Cusco to kilometer 82 which marks the beginning of the traditional Inca Trail. I believe its around a 45 kilometer trip (around 28 miles) which is usually done over the course of four days. Unfortunately there was a transportation strike scheduled for our last day so we had to squeeze four days of hiking into three to be able to cover all the ground and get to Machu Picchu in time to get back out to Cusco. The trail is a restored and maintained version of what the Incas used to travel back and forth between MP and Cusco. It was mostly stones and a good mix of up down and flat. We started off at 8500 feet, by the middle of day two we were up to 13,800 feet, and headed back down to Machu Picchu at 7900 feet. The company we used, Enigma, was great and our guide was incredible. The four of us were a little quicker than the rest of our group (we were 10 in total) so during the day we would move ahead on our own, and then at meal breaks and when we would stop for camp we would regroup with the rest. We ran into very few other trekkers on the trail which I think was in part due to our timing (its the off-season) and in part due to the regulations the government puts on how many tourists can enter the park at a time. Trekking through the Andes is breathtaking and the changes in vegetation and climate as you change altitude was really incredible. By the end of the trek it almost felt like we were in the jungle.

On the last day we had to get up at 4am to make it to Machu Picchu by 11am, and hiking up to the Sun Gate when you can finally look out over the ruins was the way to go. As we made our way down to the ruins we passed lots of tourists who had arrived via train that day and had showered, put on makeup and jewelry, even brushed their hair! We were on day three of being sweaty and smelly. Two of my friends had plastic bags wrapped around their feet because their hiking boots got wet in a downpour. I was left with my black Microsoft shirt that says geek in binary code and a pair of black leggings; everything else was dirty or wet. Another friend had accidentally (or possibly purposely) brought her dad’s long underwear so was wearing what looked like a long white tunic over black leggings. We were a rag-tag bunch, but felt like we had really earned the experience, and were lucky enough to get a beautiful sunny morning to explore the ruins.

We were then bussed down to the local town called Aguas Calientes, where we paid a visit to the local hot springs. We took the train back to Cusco and arrived at 1am, exhausted and ready for sleep. We had the whole next day free in Cusco because we had been planning on still being on the trail. My friends made me go to a nice hotel where they forced me to drink expensive wine and eat expensive cheese (then they paid for it). It was great! And it was the perfect way to relax and wind down after a long and arduous hike. We spent the rest of the day exploring a neighborhood called San Blas, and then headed to a local pub to watch election results. We stayed up long enough to see Obama clinch the win, and then I was the only one who made it late enough to see his awesome speech. I spent a good part of the night in tears (happy tears) and woke up the next morning with a puffy face and a hope-filled heart.

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  1. Okay. So I didn’t bring my dad’s long underwear completely by accident – I mean, it was purposeful, but out of extreme necessity. All of my sporty/wintery clothes were packed up in storage, and I needed something warm. Dr. T’s long underwear shirt, while exceptionally long, was warm and soft, and clearly he doesn’t need it…


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