A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Cusco and around

Unpleasant things in your face

sunny
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So we woke up the 29th and went to explore the city of Cusco. We at breakfast at Jack´s cafe, on San Blas, the art district of Cusco, which was great! I got a strawberry smoothie, and a heaping plate of scrambled eggs with roasted tomatoes and basil, on toast. It hit the spot. So on this day in Cusco we intended to see the sites, but we were quite tired of all the ruins and such, and decided instead to just explore the city and take pictures. We saw the 12-angled stone, listened to part of a Japanese tour about it, and that was about it.

We did do a tour of the Catedral, which was interesting and frusterating all at once. It was kind of funny to see that they had a saint to pray to for women who want a certain man to become their husband, and also one for the men to pray to in order to free themselves from those prayers. How silly. I´m sorry, but I insist on being the one wooed, not pining over some guy. If I´m not worth his time, he´s sure as heck not worth mine. One of the things I was very interested to see here at the Cathedral was the way that the Spanish and Peruvian cultures combined, to see that contrast. If you don´t know much about Peru, the Incas basically came through and conquered most of the other cultures, but then they had a civil war of sorts, after which they could have recovered, but the Spanish came through right at that moment and took over. So its quite sad to see how the Inca culture got lost, but interesting to think about the fact that they themselves were a conquering culture, that thus got conquered. When the Spanish came through, they brought with them the church, and the Catedral was a perfect example of how they integrated Peruvian elements to help convert the locals. It was quite infuriating to see for me. Most of you probably know my views on organized religions, and this contrast was so striking. It´s pretty apparent here the difference between the Spanish people and the native Peruvians, even today. And its definitely mostly an economic contrast. It reminds me an awful lot of things that happened in the states with the Native Americans. It´s a very similar seeming situation. I can´t help but wonder why this has to happen. Is it just unavoidable human nature to try and conquer others? Is that uniquely human? Or is that our animal instincts? It just drives me crazy to see people doing things that they think are in the name of something important, but its so destructive. And also to see people who think that another person´s faith is so archaic... when, well, lets be honest here. They all derive from a similar place. At least as far as my understanding goes. If you are interested in this, check out the first part of the zeitgeist movie. Just google it, and you should be able to watch it online for free. Not to get too offensive to the faithful of my readers, but this topic drives me up the wall all the time. I just hate the thought of justifying destructive actions, or any actions based on something you believe but can´t prove... maybe I´m too much of a scientist for the world of faith. Okay, I need to stop. I could babble about this for a long time, but I´m probably upsetting some people right now. This is why I generally keep my mouth shut about this topic. Anyway, moving along...

Okay so this is actually sort of along the same vein I suppose. Sorry, can´t help it. Outside the cathedral there was this ADORABLE little girl running around, and we took some pictures of her, and went across the street to sit and relax and look at the Plaza. But this little girls mom, pretty obviously a native, brought her across the street to see us again.

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So, we took some more pictures of her and played with her a little bit. And then her mother asked us for some money for taking pictures. I... don´t quite know how to explain myself here. While I understand the circumstances that put this woman in such a place, it really REALLY irks me for a parent to use their child like that. And she wasn´t the only one. This happens everywhere in many of the towns in Peru. Later in the day a woman sent her little boy over to try and play with me. There is a lot of sadness and poverty in these towns. They have become so dependent on tourism... You go to school here for tourism and languages. While tourism is good in that it is helping the country to gain some footing, what happens in the future? Who is going to school to become a politician? Or a doctor? How are they going to start making the steps towards this? What if the government decides to stop letting tourists in? It feels like everything is hanging in such a delicate balance here right now, and it worries me for the people here. There is a LOT of deep poverty, and there´s no attempt made to hide it here. And no one seems to be trying to do much about it. We saw a mural in town that is being restored, of the history of Cusco. And it had so much...sadness in it. I don´t really know what to do with myself right now...

I don´t know what else to say about it. I have to keep writing, because time is money for the internet here right now, but if anyone wants to talk about this when I get home, please please please let us do that. SO much is unresolved in my mind right now. I need to hear some wisdomosity.

Anyway, we went to the local artisans market as well, but weren´t really in the mood to purchase anything. We also stopped to see the big fountain waterfall outside of the market, which was pretty neat. Again, I´ll try to put up some pictures. At the end of our first day in Cusco we went up to the Gatos market, called the hotel to come get us, and sat down to think and rest. Oh, and then a guy from a local club hit on Laura and we´re pretty sure offered her some drugs. Wouldn´t be a full day without that. Luckily I was wearing my fake wedding ring... the men here can be a little aggressive, so I´ve been wearing a fake wedding ring around to keep them away... so don´t be alarmed if you see it in any of the pictures. And please don´t start congratulating Scott. Haha.

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For our second day in Cusco, our hotel arranged for us a driver to take us to Chinchero, lunch in Urubamba, and a visit to Moray. These are all small towns around the Cusco area. Our driver was Havier, and he was really nice and friendly... and patient with our crappy spanish skills! It was really cute, too, because his wife called him about fifteen times during the day. And I know enough spanish to know that he had to tell her allllll about us, where we were going, where we were from, what we looked like, etc.

Right on the way out of town Havier showed us the track going down an embankment where a car had gone off the road and crashed. How´s that for confidence boosting?

We went to Chinchero, and old town with some inca ruins, and wandered around. It was pretty, but there was so much sadness there you couldn´t ignore it. There were some puppies wandering around with ribs showing (going to be the topic of a whole blog after this, I have to talk about this one), and many sad people trying to sell cheap wares. It was just... triste. And there was one church in this town, and inside it was so elegant and covered in the fanciest of things. Which boils my blood... yet again. How can you have a church full of the finest of things when your people are starving?!?! GAH!

Anyway, lets move along. We went to lunch in Urubamba, and bought Havier lunch. Which is good that we invited him, because otherwise we would NOT have been able to order. Hehe. But it was quite nice to have him along. He was such a nice guy. He got some fried trout and let us try it (realllllllllllllly good), and Laura and I shared some chicken, potatos, cheese, fried banana, and what appeared to be ginormous corn kernels. It was really good food, but WAY too much for us to eat. I hate wasting food, darnit. We would have eaten even less if we had gotten the cuy though. That would be guinea pig, a local delicacy. Um, yeah. I´ve tried a decent amount of stuff here in Peru, but guinea pig will not be on my menu.

OH YAH I forgot! We also brought a bunch of school supplies with us to Peru, and on this day we stopped any time we saw some kids and gave them away. It was so fun! One little boy got a package of markers, and his eyes got real big and he said "MUCHOS gracias!!" It was great.

We also went to Moray, some more ruins. This is a series of terraces that they think were a sort of experimental area for crop growing that the Incas built and used to find the best conditions for growing all different sorts of crops, which is part of what helped the civilization to be so large and successful. It was pretty neat. Again... pictures later.

Then we turned around and headed back to Cusco. For a little while we wondered if we were going to have some car trouble, because there was this scraping noise, but it went away once we reached the paved road again. So yay.

We got back to the hotel, and got ready for the folk dance show in town. It was great! I took some fun video of it. Then when we got back to the hotel, we shared some huckleberry taffy with the staff (who were all sooo amazing to us, and are now our friends). It was quite a hit. We sat around and chatted with the owner and some of the staff, and found out that the owner´s grandfather was a biologist of sorts. He collected and catalogued many of the species in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, which is part of what helped lead to its assignment as a reserve and subsequent protection. I don´t think she realizes quite how amazing that is!! She had a book that talked all about him, how he was polish, and had been in prison. He got out by promising to give the best gift ever, which was a polar bear that he shot himself. And then he went to Peru. Random! I´m sort of doing the cliffnotes version of that story and not really doing it justice, but it was quite amazing! He even had a species of rodent named after him, so therefore so does she! I would give up a whole lot of things to have a species named after me. Wow.

Anyway, then we went to bed to get ready for our trip the next day to Puno. We didn´t want to leave Torre Dorada, though. They were so wonderful to us. If you ever go to Cusco, you MUST go there. I think this Christmas Laura and I will send them a box full of huckleberry candies for the staff, and school supplies and-or clothes for them to give to the schools. :)

Quote o´the blog:
(after a long few days of telling people "no gracias" and making them leave us alone, when a man came up to us to ask for money)

Dude: Do you speak English?
Laura: A little.

[I´m just surprised she didn´t say no!]

Posted by NinjaLlama 09:58 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Off to Cusco

I´d like a jam and cheese sandwich, please

sunny
View Woo Peru! on NinjaLlama's travel map.

Well, today we woke up and got ready to head back to Cusco. Our train didn´t leave until the afternoon, so the hotel said we could sit upstairs for a little while after our checkout time. We went up there, but there was a dude asleep on the couch, so we sat there trying to be quiet for a little bit, but then decided to just go walk around town while we waited for our train. We took some great pictures of the town, the soccer fields, where people also were doing local folk dances, and many children frolicking around town. I´ll post them later if I can.

We stopped to use the internet (costing a million dollars an hour) for a little while, and then went to lunch at Inka Wasi again. Laura tried to order the "jam and cheese sandwich" on the menu, but apparently whoever translated the menu into english didn´t realize we use the letter H instead of J for the huuuh sound. So she actually got a ham and cheese sandwich. I could have laughed off my chair if it hadn´t seemed rude to do so. I personally got a chicken and cheese sandwich (and knew what to expect), which was quite delicious. There was some live music during lunch in the restaurant, which apparently is pretty common here, and is very nice. Well, except when the musicians go around asking for money. Sea monkey has my money. Sorry, random movie quote moment.

Not too much else happened in town, and we found our way safely to the train. We sat across from a couple from England on the way, and across the aisle from a group of older folks on a tour package. They were hilarious. For food we got a chicken salad sandwich, a yummy cake dessert, and some OJ. They feed you pretty well on the trains and planes here!

The highlight of the train trip was probably the fashion show. Yep, fashion show. The employees put on alpaca wool clothes and paraded up and down the cars for us to see. There was also a strange clown sort of fella with a stuffed animal that he liked to put in peoples faces and make funny noises. I´m still not quite sure what to think of that. I´ll try to put a pic of that in as well. I am PRETTY sure he was an actual employee and not just some random clown dude who likes to walk around on the train. But you never know.

Towards the end of the train ride Laura and I decided to play bananagrams, which is sort of like scrabble but not. Have I mentioned, by the way, that I can beat any of you at scrabble? Yet another useful skill to put on my resume. Anyway, we were still playing when a bunch of people got off the train, and as they went by, they kept helping me out. Hehehe. Laura didn´t think it was funny though. Sour sport.

The train has to make switchbacks in order to get into Cusco because its coming from such a high pass. That was interesting. Then when we got to the train station, the wonderful hotel we were staying at, Torre Dorada, picked us up and took us to their hotel where they took AMAZING care of us. That hotel was the best money I spent on this whole trip. Worth every single penny.

Posted by NinjaLlama 09:40 Archived in Peru Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Conquering Machu Picchu

The hunt for Cusco

sunny
View Woo Peru! on NinjaLlama's travel map.

Sub-sub heading: The day everything went wrong.

Welcome to Machu Picchu day. Are you ready for this?

So, last night, in an attempt to be smart (ish), I washed the clothes I wanted to wear to Machu Picchu so they wouldn´t have my germs all over them and I might start to feel better. But alas, this is the JUNGLE, and therefore when I woke up in the morning, my clothes were probably more wet than they were when I washed them. Enter panic. These were the only pants I brought with me for this part of the trip (we left most of our luggage in Cusco at our hotel there). So, after much panic and crankiness, I wore a pair of Laura´s pants, and she wore her jeans.

This morning Laura woke up and her wrist hurt quite a bit for no apparent reason, so she wrapped it with an ace bandage meant for an ankle, making her arm look five times its proper size. Enter more crankiness. I was also still feeling quite sick, so I took a bunch of medicine, and we headed off for the bus station. We took the bus up to Machu Picchu, and paid a sole to use the stupid bathroom before we went into the ruins. They make you pay for all kinds of stuff like that here, the bathroom especially. But only the foreigners. I´ll talk more about that in another entry, about discrimination. I have a lot of interesting things to tell on that topic.

So, to make a long story short, I promptly burned my shoulders to a crisp, and got eaten alive by these stupid sandflies, called no-see-ums. They bite a hunk off of your skin, which bleeds, and then forms a giant swollen bump that never seems to go away. To steal someone else´s words, they rape your skin and then leave you looking like you have smallpox. And boy do I ever. I have at LEAST 50 bites, all over my legs. And of course they itch like a mosquito bite on crack. I mean, I dont care if you want to steal some of my skin, but why be a bastard about it and make it itch too? The worst part is I was warned about them, but didn´t think they would be on Machu Picchu. My stupidity amazes me sometimes.

We saw some fun animals up on Machu Picchu, including chinchillas, lizards, and of course llamas. We took lots of hilarious pictures and video with the llamas, hoping one of them was Cusco. If you haven´t seen the Emperor´s new Groove, please stop reading this immediately, go rent it and watch it (nay, go BUY it, you will thank me later), and then return. You will understand. I tried to dry my clothes in the sun (yes, I carried all my wet clothes up there, like I said I´m retarded), but got in trouble by the tourist police with their whistles.

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We wanted to go to Huaynapicchu, the big mountain up there, but since the fiasco in the morning we didnt get a ticket for that, since they only let so many people up there per day. Sad. But maybe someday I will go back and do that.

We were both pretty cranky with each other (seems funny now, but not then), so we sorta went off and did our own thing for a good part of the day. And the most bizarre thing happened to me while wandering around. First, I heard a french woman in front of me say SOMETHING about the girl with the red hair (I know more french then spanish, but not too much of either) and then her and her husband turned around to look at me. Then, later, THREE separate times, people asked to take a picture with me. The first time I thought I was getting in the way of their shot, but they insisted that I get in it. Oh and at least one time someone obviously took a picture with me in the background, but didn´t actually ask me to be in it. I have no idea why. Apparently I look like a celebrity here. I mean, I get mistaken for a celebrity ALL the time back in the states, but in Peru? Mind boggling. What I SHOULD have done is tell people that I´m not who they think I am (who do they think I am, anyway?), but instead I just started pretending like it wasn´t surprising to want a picture with me. I´m such a ham. I feel a little bad for them when they get home and compare the pics with their magazines or whatever and realize they´ve been duped, but hey they started it! I don´t think it was just a small mistake either, because people were staring at me ALL DAY. Maybe they just were astounded at the number of bug bites I had and figured I would be a guinness record holder or something.

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Part way through the day a rain storm went through, leaving a gorgeous rainbow afterwards. It was so pretty! My favorite part of the rainstorm though is that everyone got out their raincoats, and raincoats have a tendency to be SO much more colorful than normal people clothes, so it was suddenly a rainbow all over the ruins, and it made me happy :)

I´m going to put some pictures in here of the rules on Machu Picchu later...

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There were some pretty interesting people at the ruins too. Like one lady who was walking around with white gloves on, carrying an umbrella over her head (not during the rainstorm, just in general), bossing people around. And then there were the two guys wearing the exact same shirt walking around together. I´ll put pictures of those in later too.

So I suppose the only thing I haven´t really talked about yet is Machu Picchu itself. And that is because you can´t describe it. I would love to spew out some profound lyrical ramblings right here, but it doesn´t suffice, and I won´t do it the injustice of trying. It is certainly a healing and spiritual place, and you can´t deny the feeling you get when you walk through the entrance and see that it´s real. I´ll put up some pictures of it if I get the chance, and maybe they will convey it a little more. You really need to go there yourself, though. I´ll go with you!

We stayed at Machu Picchu until it closed, and then went to dinner at a French peruvian restaurant called Indio Feliz. It was very fancy, and we had a meal of Avacado and papaya appetizer, salmon with mango, sweet bread, peruvian potato chips, sweet potato (yuck), green beans (yum), tomato with black goop in it (didn´t try that), creme caramel for dessert, all with the relaxing ambiance of 80s rock panflute music in the background. I´m not kidding about the music. I recorded some of it as proof.

Then... sleep.

Posted by NinjaLlama 09:10 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Off to Machu Picchu

Oh yah, it´s my birthday too.

sunny
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So, today was my Birthday, and I sort of forgot. We got up in the morning, and sat in the morning sunshine while we waited for the taxi to take us to Ollantaytambo. Our hotel, the Pisac Inn, was sooo beautiful. I will try to put some pictures of it in later. Oh yah, there are also some funny signs for the exits, which make it look like you are always supposed to sprint down the stairs. I´ll put a picture of that in as well hopefully.

On the way to Ollantaytambo, we stopped in Urubamba, and went to Seminario Ceramicas. It´s a couple who do ceramics and are world-renowned for their work. I bought some dishes and am very excited about them. Everything there was quite beautiful, and outside they had a monkey and a bunny! In the same cage, nonetheless. Strange, but fascinating. The monkey was super cute. :)

After that momentary stop, we continued on to Ollantaytambo. We did a tour of the ruins there since our train didn´t leave for awhile. It was pretty expensive to buy a pass for all the ruins around Cusco, and then our tour guide wanted money also. It feels a little bit like everyone just wants your money here in this part of Peru. Our tour guide was nice enough, but quite awkward and it made me pretty uncomfortable. But the tour was good and very informational. Those Incas sure were smart! And boy did they ever like their symbolism. In the place where we left our stuff while we did the tour, the girl there really liked my shoes and asked to swap them for a tapestry. Which, flattering though it may be, did not happen. I heard a story from one of my friends who went to Peru a few years ago that the exact same thing happened to her, so I decided to say no. Plus, I kind of need my shoes. Y´know, for walking and such. Our guide wanted to take us on another tour, of the town, for yet more money, and was very disappointed when we said no. And then they both asked me for my shoes again. And then we left. We at lunch at a yummy place... the name of which I will put in here later when I have my book with me. We got vegetarian lasagne, which was actually like raviolies, stuffed with pecans, spinach, ricotta cheese, and in a tomato sauce with some parmesan on top. It was unbelievable. Almost all of our food experiences in Peru have been amazing thus far.

Then we walked to the train station, where we took the Vistadome Valley train up to Machu Picchu (Or more specifically, Aguas Calientes, the town beneath Machu Picchu.) There were some amazing views along the way, and it was really fun to watch us move from a more arid climate gradually up into the jungle. The kids along the way all come out of their houses and sit to watch the train and wave at everyone going by. We got a snack on board, just some OJ, a ham and butter sandwich (made us think of mom, its her favorite), and a cake dessert. Again, all quite delicious. We met a nice Canadian couple on the train, and we went to buy our tickets with them since we ran into them at the hotel we were staying at. Then we went to dinner with them as well, because they found out it was my birthday and wanted to help us celebrate. They were so nice, and acted as substitute parents for the night, making sure I ate well and stayed warm while I was sick. The woman is an artist, so her and Laura hit it off quite well. She gave her some really good ideas for developing her career. I ate some chicken soup and OJ at the Inka Wasi restaurant, and of course also had a piece of chocolate cake as well. Yum-o!

Posted by NinjaLlama 08:55 Archived in Peru Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Market Day

learn to say "no, gracias"

sunny
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Today we went to the Pisac market, which is one of the most well known market days in Peru, especially around Cusco. It is quite big! There were tons of vendors, selling all sorts of items. A lot of them just sell the same things, though. Its also quite customary to haggle over prices, which I didn´t figure out until I had already spent a decent amount of money. Again, oops. The vendors are also quite aggressive! They yell out to you and follow you around and babble off lots of spanish. We learned pretty quickly that we just have to say "no, gracias" pretty much constantly. We tried to buy some stuff that seemed more locally made than mass-produced, and met some degree of success in that. There were some girls from Ayacucho who made jewelry, and I got two necklaces from them. And then there was a man from Calca who was SO kind, and he was selling necklaces and bracelets from his town that the local people make. They were made with many different colors and kinds of corn kernels, and are beautiful. It´s part of a conservation program, to continue the use of the local corn varieties, since commercial corn is so much cheaper to use. It´s part of a community program to keep colored maize as a crop, so they take the leftover kernels and everyone gets together to make jewelry out of it. So of course I bought quite a few things there. They have a website, and I don´t have it with me right now, but I will try to remember to put it up later so you all can go there and support them maybe :)

We ate lunch at the recommended Ulrike´s cafe, which was delicious. We got some guacamole with chips, and an oven-fired hawaiin pizza. ALL of the food was amazing. Oh, all of the juice here is also fresh-squeezed, so whenever I get Orange juice, I want to die of pure bliss because it is so yummy.

There are lots of little kids around Pisac that walk around dressed in cute little native clothes, carrying baby animals, saying that you can take their picture for one sole. It´s quite a difficult situation to deal with, because you don´t want to encourage certain behaviors, but you do want a picture and you do want to help them out. There are actually a lot of people here who simply walk around begging. I´m not quite sure what to make of it.

After spending most of the day at the market, we went back to the hotel and fell back asleep for the night.

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Posted by NinjaLlama 08:40 Archived in Peru Tagged shopping Comments (0)

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