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Machu Picchu

27 Dec

Oh, Machu Picchu.

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The “lost city of the Incas” and definitely one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

To get to Machu Picchu, Emilio and I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Cusco (and a 30 min taxi ride from where we were staying in the center of Cusco to the train center). The train was called Peru Rail. Although trains are not really my thing, it was actually a beautiful ride as you traveled through the rainforest and some some beautiful landscape – if not a little disruptive and the train honked its way through every small little town we passed through. We then arrived in Aguascalientes, which is the closest city to Machu Picchu. It then proceeded to rain the entire day and make us (well, me) a little nervous about Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu.

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(Representing for UW!)

We met our tour guide (from Llamas Path) at 6am to catch about a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain and arrived at Machu Picchu at about 6:30am. The bus ride is a little intense. A one way path (but with buses going both directions) that zig zags up the mountain, few railings, and steep cliffs.

A few side notes upon arrival: the only bathroom is located outside the entrance, so use it before going in. Daily tickets allow you to go in/out, but that’s not really convenient. There is a small cafe that opens at 7am and a restaurant that opens at 11am. We ate at the cafe and it was stadium prices and not delicious. I recommend packing snacks.

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At 6:30am, it was still wet and cloudy. And overwhelmingly beautiful.

We typically travel and tour without a guide, but I am actually really glad we had one for this trip because I didn’t know much history before entering. For example, these terraces were for gardening. Because Machu Picchu is situated in between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Jungle (think half the circle of each and Machu Picchu in the dead center) , they had lots of rocks and little soil. All the soil for their crops was literally carried up the mountain – by individuals (no horses or donkeys).

And the Inca’s were geniuses. Our tour guide repeatedly called them “masters.” Machu Picchu is where the Inca masters came to hone and teach their craft.

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One of their skills? Architecture. These walls are made from all the stones in the mountain. The Inca’s arrived to Machu Picchu (since they did not have a writing system, no one knows what they called it) in approximately 1430. All of their buildings and walls are still intact – through earthquakes and time – because of their skills with architecture. All their buildings are built with the mountain and rocks, rather than against them.

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Case and point. This room is referred to as the “womb,” and you can see how they kept the natural rock formation as a wall.

Even more impressive? Look at that previous wall picture. That’s for “regular people.” Then, look at this wall:

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These walls are used only on the temples.

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That detail is crazy. Again, 1430 – no modern tools and technology.

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This is the Father and Son Temple – showing off both skills in architecture and astronomy. Notice the two windows. The sun goes perfectly through one on June 21 for summer solstice and the other on December 21 for winter solstice.

The Inca’s also created “looking mirrors” for their astronomy.

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These are perfectly placed so that the water reflects the sky and the stars, etc. could be studied.

Ok, and now just some pictures…

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After our roughly two hour tour ended, we had free time. After stopping in at the cafe I previously mentioned, we decided to hike up to Sun Gate. This is a free, on your own, two hour hike that goes to 8,900 ft elevation (Machu Picchu is at 8,000 ft), but the path is decent – this is in comparison to the people who bought the extra ticket to hike Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu only allows 500 people per day and you have to buy your tickets pretty in advance. We didn’t. I didn’t mind.

This is what I heard people saying about Wayna Picchu – the hike is also about two hours but the path is so slim, you often have to take the steps sideways and in some places, climb ladders. I won’t climb a ladder leaning against a house where I could only fall about five feet – much less than falling from almost 9,000 ft elevation. No thanks. Emilio was bummed, though. When we come back, he can do it. I was good with the Sun Gate, or Inti Punku, hike. The Sun Gate used to also be the main entrance to Machu Picchu.

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As you can see, the view from the Sun Gate is breath taking, as you can look down upon the entire city. Definitely a hike worth taking! Although holy crap – pack bug spray and sunscreen! As the day wore on and the clouds broke away, it got rather warm. I had to take off my poncho, North Face, and sweatshirt to get comfortable – but this meant exposed skin – and we both left with shoulder burns and more than our fair share of bug bites.

Alright, so that about wrapped up our Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu. A final history lesson though: the Inca’s only inhabited Machu Picchu for about 100 years, or till 1530, because of the Spanish conquerors. Below them, they heard of the Spanish conquering Cusco and other people and decided to leave, but no one knows where to. They thought their city would be next, but the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which is also part of the reason that it stands in such good shape. Machu Picchu is referred to as the “lost city” because it wasn’t discovered until 1911 by some Yale archeologist, when he was actually up in the Andes looking for something else. The history of Machu Picchu is still really unknown because of this. I just wonder what happened to the people. It’s amazing to think of what he Inca’s built in only 100 years, but how little they probably got to enjoy it.

Overall, Machu Picchu was an incredible highlight to our trip. It was breath taking, mesmerizing, and also a little sad when thinking about the people who have come and gone from there. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Emilio will give you tips on how to do it on a better budget than we did, because he’s already planning out how visit #2 will work. I am just grateful we had the opportunity to spend our Christmas Eve in such a place of history and natural beauty.

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P.S. If any of my history or facts are wrong, in the words of my Obachan, “so sorry ’bout that!” I am simply regurgitating the facts as given to us by our tour guide. I am no history major.

Cusco

23 Dec

The second we stepped off the plane in Cusco, it was hard to catch our breath. Cusco is at an elevation of 11,150 feet and that altitude sickness shit is for real. Within the hour, once we arrived at our hotel, I was extremely nauseous and puking. Both Emilio and I couldn’t walk anywhere without getting winded. I was dizzy and lightheaded. Not pleasant.

But Cusco’s tourist area itself is cute. It is much smaller than Miraflores/Lima. I was fooled into thinking it was all cute until we drove out of the main area – the rest of Cusco is stricken with dire poverty. What really hurt my heart is the insane number of homeless dogs walking around. Dogs always get to me.

I think I was so ill- feeling that I forgot to take pictures of the town. But we go back Christmas Eve night, so I will try to take some then.

Anyway, the day was a bit hectic. We had to go to Llamas Path, our tour guide company, and finish paying off for our Macchu Pichu trip. Note – getting a guided tour for this is not cheap. We got one that was all inclusive (a train, a hotel, and our own personalized your with an English speaking guide, etc) and it was expensive. We saw others for cheaper once we were in Cusco, but we bought this online back in August. Emilio has already been taking notes about how we will do it cheaper next time – it really just requires some planning since the company is mainly just doing that for you.

Then, our flight back to Lima (where we continue to Buenos Aires) on Christmas Day got canceled so we had to run around and fix that. Mind you, I just said run – but that actually meant walking around town very slowly so that my heart wouldn’t beat out of my chest and I could keep breathing. The altitude is intense!!!

We only had one meal this day (maybe to make up for all that eating the previous day? Maybe because I was already eh feeling?) Emilio had Lomo Saltado – which is an example of the Asian (not sure if it’s the Japanese or Chinese influence) mixed with the Peruvian flavor. It’s basically a stir fry served with fries and rice. It is normally served with beef, but Emilio got alpaca.

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Alpacas look like this:

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Alpaca is traditional to eat in this region. It was pretty gamy and tough. Also, after looking at pictures of alpacas right now, I probably won’t try it again.

I ordered the meal that every other person in the restaurant ate (and is very popular in many places we went to) – a quarter rotisserie chicken and fries.

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It was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Except I felt like an ass because I could barely eat half of it (with Emilio’s help) and everyone around me picked theirs clean.

My only issue? I went home and got sick. Needless to say, our (mine, particularly) day in Cusco was a bit rough.

Never mind that though – now to the journey toward Macchu Pichu!

Last Day in Lima

22 Dec

Our last day in Lima was basically spent…eating. We meant to go running, but that didn’t happen because we spent the morning trying to figure which restaurants were open on Sundays and trying to find a lavanderia (laundry). Note for anyone planning to travel to Peru – everything is closed on Sunday’s! We had an entire backpack of stinky laundry and couldn’t do any of it. Many restaurants, all laundry services, and all the little corner marts and stands (where you can pick up snacks, water, fruit) are all closed.

So, to compensate for the lack of our run, we decided to walk two miles to a famous cebichería – La Mar. In Peru, it is customary that cebicherías (ceviche restaurants) are only open for lunch. La Mar is owned by one of the most famous chefs in Peru – Gaston Acurio. We were going to go to his flagship, Gaston y Astrid, but it was like $500 – and there’s no way that was happening.

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The restaurant was nice and open – and extremely busy. They had lines out the door, but we got seated within about the half hour.

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Once we sat down, they served us plantain chips and three salsas. The middle one was spicy and super delicious.

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As I looked around at the other tables, everyone had calamari so we started with that.

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It was pretty much exactly what you would expect. Next, the waitress recommended grilled octopus.

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In case you haven’t noticed yet, everything is served with potatoes here. Apparently Peru has 3,000 varieties of potatoes.

And for the reason we came here – the ceviche sampler.

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The first was the Nikkei ceviche (Peruvian and Japanese). It was tuna served with soy sauce and tamarindo. It was good, but not what you think of when you think ceviche.

Next, the traditional. It’s served with lots of red onion and corn.

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And the last, and definitely the best, was this one:

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It was the traditional base, but served with mixed seafood and had the heat from that salsa I mentioned above. Above and beyond, the best.

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Along with some pisco sours and delicious jugo fresa (strawberry juice), that was our meal. We definitely needed the two mile walk back after this one!

As I already mentioned, Miraflores is really committed to having lots of parks. We walked back along the water and the bluffs are just lined with parks and people hanging out.

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Don’t ask how, but a few hours later we ventured out to eat again. This time – Japanese in San Borjas.

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We just had some ramen here. I was hoping for more of that Nikkei flavor, but the restaurant was owned by a Japanese guy and was pretty standard ramen. The noodles were excellent consistency of chewiness, though. And it was full of Japanese! It’s so interesting to me that the Japanese government kicked out so many Japanese to Peru. I need to learn more of that history. But, I got a kick out of it every time I saw someone who looked Japanese but spoke perfect Spanish.

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And that’s our last day in Lima! We had to wake up at 6am for our flight for Cusco the next day, so we called it a night to go home and pack!

All around Lima – Day 2

20 Dec

In Peru, summer has just started. It’s technically about 70 degrees each day, but it’s overcast and I constantly oscillate between being a little too warm and a little too cold.

For Day 2, we started our morning by going for a short jog. Like I already mentioned, we are in a great area in Miraflores and walked a few blocks to the bluffs where there is a paved path for runners up and down the ocean. Along the way, we stopped at Parque Amor (love park).

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Sorry, but you can’t be in front of a kissing statue and not take a kissy selfie.

Along with the ridiculous number of couples making out on benches (all over the city!), there are pretty mosaic walls of broken tiles.

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The walls were covered with love quotes and couples names.

After our short jog, we came home to get ready. This time, my smart boyfriend figured out the hot water and turned it on before we left so it could warm up. I had glorious, glorious hot water…for about two minutes. I am learning how to shower super fast.

We decided to go to a place in our neighborhood for lunch called Papas Grill. I ordered a small salad and Emilio ordered a plate of beef hearts, chicken hearts, and gizzards.

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We’ve had all these skewers before in South East Asia, but were not that impressed here – too salty and chewy. We probably should have paid more attention to what everyone around us was ordering – a rotisserie type chicken with fries. Literally every other table had it. Oh well. Live and learn. We got some ice cream to compensate after.

We then headed out to Centro Historico, also known as City of the Kings. This place was jam packed with people – holy cow – and all Christmas shopping, eating, etc. We did some browsing in the stores and went to a restored ruined home (not sure from when).

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As every other day, we stopped for a few drinks – a pisco sour, a Peru Libre, and a Machu Picchu (the brightly layered drink below).

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About a ten minute walk away from Centro Historico is Barrio Chino (China Town).

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There are a ton of restaurants called “Chifa” here – which is the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian. We went to San Joy Lao, which has been around since the 1920’s.

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At this place, we wanted to go for the full Chifa experience – a fried guinea pig served with oyster sauce. Before you freak out, guinea pigs are pretty traditional in Peru, so we had to try it!

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I would say it was pretty much like the dark meat of chicken.

Barrio Chino probably had the most jam-packed amount of people I have ever seen. It was incredibly loud and busy with people just bustling everywhere. There were tons of street vendors and the smell of grilled meats and pan dulce all over the air. And a lot less tourists. It was hard to even get a picture that fully demonstrated how busy and full this place was. It took us about 20 minutes to get a cab – and not because none were passing us by, but because every taxi and city bus was full of people and there were probably 20 buses in a row! Our taxi driver told us about 11 million people live in Lima and I seriously think I saw 8 million of them in Barrio Chino tonight. So. Many. People.

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Once we finally did convince a taxi driver to pick us up, we went to Parque de la Reserva. The park is known for its fountains and lights – think Bellagio in Vegas, but an entire park of fountains and lights in every color.

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This was pretty beautiful. My favorite was arch of lights and water that we could walk through.

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Alright, after grabbing some dulce de leche churros, we headed back to Miraflores in a taxi and called it a day!

Miraflores – Day 1

20 Dec

Well we arrived safe and sound to our AirBnB room on Thursday around midnight. We were exhausted so pretty much went straight to bed (after checking in with both our moms, of course). FYI – Lima is three hours ahead of San Diego.

So Day 1. Our AirBnB host told Emilio to turn on the hot water 30-45 minutes before showering. Emilio told me it was on and told me to hop in. Freezing. Cold. Water. (Connie – it was like being in Jalisco again last Christmas!!) Needless to say, I only washed the essentials. I need to appreciate hot, long showers at home more. Hot water is amazing.

Although our room itself is lacking in amenities, we are centrally located in Miraflores which is fantastic. We always appreciate being in walking distance to places we want to go. We started our day by searching for some food. We decided to walk through Parque Kennedy (Kennedy Park) on our way to a sandwich place I had read about.

The city of Miraflores does a fantastic job maintaining beautiful parks throughout the city. The funny thing about Parque Kennedy though…is that it’s full of cats.

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I don’t really know the full story, but I did read that they are sterilized and generally taken care of – although I did see a few that looked a little too skinny. Mostly though, people held them in their laps and little kids chased them around the park. It was cute.

But back to the food. Our first meal was at a Peruvian sandwich shop called La Lucha Sangucheria. We shared a papaya jugo, a chicharron sandwich, and some papas fritas. I was expecting the fried chicharron, and this was not that. But, it was still good. More like pulled pork, served with good bread and some type of sweet potato mash (?) and pickled red onions.

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I love papaya. Emilio thinks it tastes like feet.

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Chicharron sandwich.

After lunch, we explored the area a bit more and then decided to go to the Museo Larco.

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There are two things that make this museum famous:

1. It allows you to see all the artifacts that aren’t on display in their storage rooms.
2. They have one of the only collections of erotica sculpture from the Peruvians. The Spanish conquistadors ruined most of them for being too…erotic.

Why do you think we went?

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We also learned some history, though. Like that after battles, the defeated were often decapitated and then their blood made into an offering for the gods. Isn’t that nice?

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And with that dull ass blade? Oh my.

We also learned that gold and silver were equally adorned by the Peruvians. Gold was masculine and represented the sun; silver was feminine and represented the moon. They were often worn together. The death rituals were of major significance and often the dead were adorned in lots of jewelry and textiles.

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The museum was in a little town called Pueblo Libre. When we left, we asked about another little restaurant we had read about and he guard literally told us to follow the blue line on the street to get there.

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At Antigua Taberna Queirolo, we opted for Peru’s national drink – the pisco sour.

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Emilio ordered some fish ceviche.

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And was disappointed it wasn’t served with chips, but otherwise pretty good.

I had a rocoto relleno, which is a local Peruvian dish. It was a fairly spicy pepper and was stuffed with meat, dates, olives, and hard boiled egg. Then, covered in melted cheese and accompanied by some potatoes and some sauce. I didn’t love it, but glad I tried something local. But egg and olives? It just confused me.

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After a few more pisco sours and some local beers, we took a cab back to Miraflores and that was pretty much our day!

They eat out late here and so we meant to come home, rest, and then head back out at 10:00 for dinner – but we just slept through till morning! Ha. Maybe Day 2?