Hello all! It has been a super hectic and stressful week and thus I am pretty late on catching up on my blogging/picture uploading which had to, surprisingly, take a back seat to a couple exams. I had a Quechua quiz on Monday which it turned out that I overstudied for so I’m pretty sure that one won’t cause me any problems when the grade comes back. However, the same cannot be said for my history class. After reading the 200+ pages for our exam I felt moderately prepared for the two long essays. Rookie/foreigner mistake. Not sure exactly how to convey the drop in my stomach when I realized, after looking at the questions, that I had no idea what I was going to write, but it was there and it was painful. Thats about all I want to say about that. So….let me tell you about Cusco, the Sacred Valley and, wait for it, Machu Picchu!!! It must first be noted that the motto of our trip would be something along the lines of “keep drinking”. The number of plastic water bottles I drank would make my sister sick (sorry Rachel, but my nalgene wasn’t an option). Prepare yourselves now for many references to water.
Our flight left early and thus we had to be at the airport (for the second week in a row!!!) at 5am. Thank you daddy for making me a morning person. I knew it was going to be a good weekend when the ticket lady gave me a window seat because I tend to stare out/lean over other people between me and the window to see what we’re flying over. Glued to the window, I saw the sun for the first time in a while, the beautiful Andes (both snowcapped and clay red), small little villages formed around tiny bodies of water, and an incredible view of the city of Cusco as we got ready to land. Immediately people began to feel the effects of the altitude but I think coming from the mountains lessened the symptoms for me. As a precaution I had been drinking more water than my body has ever experienced to hydrate myself and as people began to feel lightheaded I frantically began purchasing water everywhere. We made our way to the hotel where we were advised to rest for the day so as not to get altitude sickness. Yeah right, i thought, grabbing my water, ready to conquer altitude sickness. As some of the group headed up to rest, the rest ventured out into the city, first towards the Plaza de Armas.
The Plaza de Armas is a beautiful square with two beautiful iglesias (churches), a grand fountain, and cobblestones, which for some reason make me feel very at home. In awe of the amazing sights, we just sat for a while and took it all in before venturing into one of the churches to attend a local artesania fair where we bought gifts to support local artists. After perusing and purchasing some items we decided to head to lunch to get some food and yet more water to keep us going. I had a typical Peruvian sandwich called a Chicharron (pork, sweet potatoes, onion). After lunch our group was reduced to just two as the others headed back to rest (probably a smart idea) but the adventurer in me was not about to go back. Alyssa and I made our way to the Mercado de San Pedro where we had heard about the good deals and less touristy Cusco experience. It was so cool! Stand after stand of fresh fruit smoothies, flowers, textiles, and some weird finds such as jars of snakes, strange goat skeletons, and…a bathroom which I still am at a loss for words of how to describe (see picture below).
Our next point of interest was a good way across the city at a place called San Blas where we had heard there was an amazing overlook and view of the city. Warned of the steepness of the hike, we continued chugging waters and preparing ourselves to feel very out of shape. About half way up we encountered two local women with their BABY SHEEP (eeeeeepppppp) and I almost cried as they let me hold it. Had I not been at a disadvantage with the altitude I would have run away with the little cutie, but they would have caught up to me if I had avoided passing out. A while later we reached the Mirador del Inca where the city of Cusco was laid out before us. It was breathtaking–literally. We spent time there just taking it in. Fast forward to dinner and we find me, feet aching from all the walking, worn out from fighting the altitude, and finally ready to head back to sleep.
The next morning we woke up and began our day full of archaeological sights in the Sacred Valley (see picture below). I’m going to simply skim over these since it would take too many adjectives to give them justice and I’m not trying to make this a novel. First we went to Saqsaywaman (yes, people joke about it as sexy woman haha) which was an important sight for the Incas because it was right outside the capital of Cusco. Also, it should be noted that my rentention of all the facts our tour guide told us throughout the day is terrible, because you could usually find me trailing behind the group trying to take pictures and take all the beauty in. After holding some more baby sheep and llamas, we headed down into the Sacred Valley which is indescribable but so incredibly full of scenery from God. I was in awe the entire day. We visited and hiked up (still consuming enought water for a whale) Pusaq and Oyllantaytambo which were both beautiful terraced Incan agriculture/cermonial sights. the last part of the day we caught our train up to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu, which we would visit bright and early in the morning.
This is where my experience took a slight detour from my perfect vision of how the trip was going to go. After planning to get up and catch the first bus at 5:30am up the mountain, I was super excited to catch the sunset and bask in the greatness that is Machu Picchu. However, I woke up with some sort of sickness that had other plans for my morning. Reduced to tears of frustration and disappointment as the rest of the group left for Machu Picchu I went to stay with Marion, one of our wonderful program directors who took care of me/let me watch harry potter in her hotel room. In this moment “trust the process” rang so true for me. I decided that I would make it up the mountain sooner or later and that sulking wasn’t going to make me better. Finally, three hours later I felt stable enough to venture up, hoping any sickness would hold off long enough for me to see the ruins.
Again, words to describe Machu Picchu do not exist, you simply have to go there to experience the unbelievable intelligence, strength and awe of their empire. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it. I could have sat and taken pictures all day. When Marion and I first got up to the top the fog was still rising, revealing the ruins below and then the sun came out (turns out it had rained all morning). I am actually at a loss for how to describe it. Just see the pictures below haha. I think I still need time to process it. Its not everyday you get to see one of the seven wonders of the world. A little after noon we had to head back to catch our train back to Cusco where we rested and went to dinner at this awesome magical restaurant called Yanupay Cafe. All the proceeds go to help provide education and an after school program to disadvantaged kids in the city. Here, I cursed my stomach and ate a brownie and ice cream (which they are famous for) and then headed back to sleep. By the way–my water bottle intake tally for this day had to have topped 12 (it was unreal and completely uncharacteristic)
The next morning we left the beautiful sunshine lit, Andean mountain surrounded, fresh air filled city of Cusco to return to Lima where it was foggy and cold. Bleh. It was, without a doubt in mind, one of the most beautiful weekends I have ever experienced. But it also reminded me of the beauty that is Waynesville, North Carolina. The mountain streams and fall colors that we have are unrivaled in their own way. Missing my mountain home this week! On another note, I am super excited for today! I am going to the largest food festival in South America, called Mistura. They have sections of all kinds of foods and bands playing and demonstrations, all the works. It is my first food festival which is dangerous, but I am SO EXCITED. Look for pictures to come soon!
Feeding llamas like its no big deal
The scary public restroom
Plaza de Armas