Month: May 2014

The canyon of the “thin rivers”

We arrived in Cajamarca late afternoon on Thursday.  We had found a CouchSurfer to stay with there, as well – I was determined that my first exposure to CouchSurfing wouldn’t deter me from trying it again.

This was a much better experience than the first time. Hebert and his French girlfriend Anaise (who spoke impeccable Spanish – I was super impressed) were incredibly nice and accommodating. We had a lovely chat with them the night we arrived, and they gave us lots of information about the city and places to see around it. We ended up only staying two nights there because we really didn’t like the city itself, but at least the accommodation was very nice.

Nevertheless, it was still a little strange. I have decided that CouchSurfing is kind of a package deal – you get a free place to stay, and also pretty much always an interesting story, as well. With Herbert and Anaise, the weird part was that they actually hosted us not in their house, but in their office. They have a little room in the office with a bed in it where they keep their surfers, and we just hung out there after they left work and went home.  I must admit, though, the 3 deadbolts and 2 padlocks that Herbert trained me on locking before he left was a little unnerving…

The weirdest bit about the CouchSurfing experience in Cajamarca happened the afternoon before we left, when we met Aaron. Aaron is an American from Wisconsin who is traveling for like six months on a SUPER tight budget – hitch hiking and CouchSurfing all the way, basically only spending money on food. Anyway, he was waiting outside of Herbert’s office when we got back in the afternoon. Said he had been traveling with a Russian girl who had gone on ahead of him, and left a note for him to meet her there. Except she wasn’t staying with Herbert, and thus ensued a complicated endeavor to find the mysterious missing Russian girl, with Herbert calling the other CouchSurfing hosts in Cajamarca (yes, the town is small enough that he knows all of them) to try to figure out where she had gone so that Aaron could meet up with her, and with me playing translator, since Aaron doesn’t really speak any Spanish. I found it rather comical, actually, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I was in Aaron’s shoes.

The day after we arrived, we went on a tour of Cumbe Mayo, an ancient pre-Incan civilization. It is believed that the name “Cumbe Mayo” is derived from a quechuan phrase meaning “thin rivers,” and there is even today the remnants of a quite sophisticated drainage system that allowed water on the bottom of the channel to continue flowing while the uppermost water remained still.  However, by this point the majority of the ancient remains have disappeared, and it is mostly just a really cool canyon. But it was still fascinating, very different from most everything we had seen before. Plus we met a very friendly couple from Trujillo, George and Anita, who made me nostalgic for the lovely city I had so recently left :).

But other than Cumbe Mayo, Cajamarca didn’t have any pull for us; add to that the fact that more CouchSurfers were coming to Herbert’s house the next night from Germany, and we decided to go ahead and move on to Chachapoyas.

Going through the little tunnel to get to Cumbe Mayo:

Kids walk for hours, unaccompanied, to Cumbe Mayo because they know that tourists will be there.  They go in the hope that they will be able to pick up tips by begging or selling things or singing or taking pictures with people: 

Reconnecting with my love of travel

As I previously mentioned, instead of staying in Chavin we decided to go straight to Trujillo. We got in around 4:30 am on Monday morning; rather than mess with a CouchSurfer, we just checked into a hostel that Caro’s guide book had recommended. That was the best thing that we could have done. Due to the harrowing weekend that we had had before, I found myself at the end of my rope by Monday morning. I was this close to changing my plane ticket and returning that very day. But we were able to rest in the hostel, take it easy for a few days, and by Tuesday or Wednesday I was feeling worlds better. I’m sure that the shower – my first in 5 days – also helped enormously :).

So Monday was a pretty low-key day, basically just recuperating from the weekend. I spent a lot of time in the main square of Trujillo (which is absolutely lovely – definitely my favorite city yet), just writing, taking pictures, and talking to people. People say I look Hispanic, but I still think I stick out like a sore thumb – I’m constantly having people coming up to me trying to sell me something or ask where I’m from. This can get pretty annoying at times, but it also is an excellent way to meet people, if you choose to look at it that way.

That is, at least, how I chose to look at it, and I really did get the opportunity to meet quite a few interesting characters.  I met César, the indigenous man who was admirably persistent in trying to sell a tour to me. At first I didn’t mind talking to him, because he was keeping his distance; but over the course of the afternoon he kept coming back and getting closer and closer. When he tried to give me a kiss on the cheek even though I was obviously and quickly walking away from him was around the time that I left the plaza for the afternoon.

But not all of the people I met left a bad taste in my mouth like César did. Take Israel, for example, a cop who was stationed in the plaza that afternoon. I’m not really sure why there were so many policemen there – there was no threat of violence or unrest. Poor Israel looked so bored, I think he was just looking for an interesting distraction.  But he was very nice, and more than happy to show me where to exchange money, or find cheap artisan shops, or recommend good restaurants, or just tell me a little bit about himself. I really enjoyed talking with Israel.

I met George because he was, not surprisingly, trying to sell me something. When I made it clear that I wasn’t interested, he decided to just sit down and tell me the whole history of Peru, Trujillo, and the central plaza de armas. I suspect that he was doing it because he wanted a tip, but it was still a fascinating story. My favorite part was his description of the symbolism that the fountain in the main plaza has. The central figure is a youth holding a torch that symbolizes liberty. Around this youth, there are other figures that represent the stages of liberty – first, the oppression of the indigenous people, second, the fight to break the chains of slavery, and finally freedom in the end. In between those figures, there were also smaller ones that represented the great things of Peru, such as education and its beauty. It was really quite an impressive fountain. I love symbolism.

Monday was a much-needed day of rest, and also a reminder to me of what I love about traveling – connecting with people. But by Tuesday Caro and I were back on our whirlwind sightseeing tour. We went to two different sights on Tuesday, called Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo. They were both incredible. Constructed thousands of years ago, even before the period of the Incans, and made from simple adobe mud bricks, it’s truly amazing to me how much of these structures are still standing. The same goes for the 200 kilometer square complex of Chan Chan, which we saw the next day. Although we took tours to Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo because they were obligatory, we went on our own to Chan Chan, and spent hours wandering the complex ruins. The site itself was very impressive, but the area around it was rather strange, actually, and we spent a long time wandering the marked paths around the ruins looking for the museum that was supposedly right around the corner.  But we never found it – all of the paths just led to dead ends, so eventually we gave up and headed back into town (maybe it’s a marketing ploy to try to get you to buy a tour – only the tour guides know how to get to the museum! Hehehe…)

It was with great sadness that we left Trujillo on Thursday morning. Trujillo was by far my favorite city yet. The plaza (and city in general) was lovely, the people were friendly, and I even got to go dancing on Tuesday night! If I ever go back to Peru, Trujillo is definitely going to be one of the places that I visit. Maybe by plane this time, to avoid all of the time in buses :).

Musings on traveling

Note: I wrote this note when I first arrived in Trujillo, after the craziness of getting to Chavin de Huantar, the CouchSurfer in Huaraz, and countless hours spent in buses (see my previous post for more details about that).  I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown, and seriously considering changing my return flight and coming back early.  I even contacted several people back home via phone and instant message, because I just really needed level-headed, unbiased advice and perspectives.  But my mom in particular gave me some very wise advice, and in the end I decided to stay.  By the end of the trip, I saw God work in such an awesome way, and I was sooooo glad that hadn’t given up when it got hard.  But still, there WAS a time when it was very very hard.  These were my thoughts in the middle of that struggling.  Even though they’re not particularly happy, I think that they’re important to share, important to keep in mind when things get difficult and you want to throw in the towel.

When people see my pictures from my travels, they are often jealous of the opportunities that I’ve had. I’m sure my writing style often doesn’t help, as I generally do my best to make them as upbeat as possible and only focus on the positives.

But I think it’s important to point out that what you see in the pictures and read in the writing isn’t the whole story. What I usually try to leave out are the countless hours spent in buses, the sleepless nights in freezing rooms, the rude natives who don’t like foreigners in their country, the lonely days filled with homesickness.

Those are the details that are overwhelming me right now. The trip from Cuzco to Trujillo, where I am now, was absolutely grueling. 40+ hours in buses within the span of 3 days, and I’m absolutely exhausted. Perhaps I can chalk it up to that exhaustion, but this morning I was seriously considering changing my plane ticket and coming home early. I was just done with it all.

But (at least for now) I’ve decided not to leave early. And here is why. The only other time in my life when I was this homesick, this tired, and this just over it all was when I first arrived in Korea. And that turned out to be the single most incredible year of my entire life. The people that I met, the things that I learned about God and myself, the insights into life and fun cultural experiences that I had while in Korea are absolutely priceless and completely irreplaceable.  And I think that the same can happen in Peru.  I really believe that if I’m willing to listen, there are amazing things that God can teach me about Him, myself, and people in general while I’m here. I just need to be willing to slow down and hear what He’s trying to tell me.

So that has been my prayer since I started struggling with all of this – simply that I would be able to just be still and listen. It’s so easy to miss important life lessons because we’re too busy trying to figure out the lesson on our own, and refuse to just be still and listen to the teaching.  While I am certainly enjoying seeing the sights of Peru, this trip – and really traveling in general for me – has never been solely about being a tourist and seeing cool sights. It’s about gaining more insight into the world around me and the One who created it.  And if I can do that, I think staying here the full 3 more weeks that I have left would be worth it.  I’m excited to see what God has to teach me!

Buses and tunnels and random people’s couches

We left Cuzco midday on Friday, headed for Lima – that in itself is a 21 hour bus ride. But neither Caro nor myself like Lima, so we kept right on going another 8 hours to Huaraz, arriving around 7:30 on Saturday night. I had found a CouchSurfer who said that we could stay with him, so we headed directly to his place. (Couchsurfing, for those of you who don’t know, is an online project where you can find people living in the cities you’re traveling to who are willing to host you for free. The idea is that you will then, in turn, host people traveling to your city. As long as you are careful to host or stay with people with good references, it’s usually a pretty cool way to travel on a budget and meet interesting people.)

So anyway, we got to Huaraz and couldn’t find this guy’s house. Finally I reached him on the phone, and it turns out that he had given us the wrong address. And he wasn’t at home, but at a party. So he told us to wait in front of his place and he’d meet us there. He finally let us in, and his “house” was a single room with just one twin size bed and barely room to walk around it. That’s it. This guy really had absolutely no business offering to host people in his home.

After he let us in, he left to go back to the party.  The room was filthy, but we were so tired we didn’t have the energy to look for something else that night. So I slept in my clothes, Caro slept in her sleeping bag, together on the tiny bed. It was definitely a bonding experience, lol. In the middle of the night he came back and went to sleep on the floor right next to us – there wasn’t space to go anywhere else. It was so super sketchy, oh my gosh.  My guardian angel was definitely working overtime that night!

So we got up early the next morning and ran away from that. We were planning on staying 2 nights, but OBVIOUSLY that wasn’t going to happen. We caught the 3 hour bus to Chavin de Huantar by 7:30 am, and decided to spend the night there instead – paid for a room and everything. We reserved a private room with a shower, but the shower turned out to be broken. When we talked to the owner about it, she refused to do anything about it.  And so began my first argument ever in Spanish. It was actually really good – the fact that I didn’t have completely fluent command of the language meant that I had to speak slowly and choose my words carefully, rather than let my temper get the best of me. I was still steamed, though. We ended up convincing her to give us most of our money back; we were so frustrated with Chavin, that we got into a colectivo headed back to Huaraz that night, and then caught an overnight bus to Trujillo.  All in all, by the time we got to Trujillo, we had spent about 40 hours in buses and colectivos within the span of 3 days.  I was exhausted and close to a mental breakdown.

But more on that in the next post, I’m getting ahead of myself!  There was actually a reason that we went to Chavin; it was not just because we are gluttons for punishment. Chavin de Huantar is home to some of the oldest ruins in all of South America, dating from 1200 AD (some 200 years before the Incans came to power) to 300 AD. Despite the huge hassle to get there, it was really very very cool. The mystery of the people of Chavin is how they managed to survive so long, without any apparent weapons or military to speak of. During its heyday, Chavin de Huantar was used as a religious center and point of pilgrimage for the entire valley and surrounding regions.  It’s just amazing to me that buildings made without any modern technology at all could survive thousands and thousands of years. Can you imagine something built in the modern era surviving that long??

We spent several hours on the site. The above-ground ruins were interesting, but my favorite part was definitely the underground rooms and corridors. There was a series of labyrinthine tunnels that ran underneath the entire complex that visitors were actually able to enter. It gave me a whole new perspective on the people of Chavin – not only were they able to construct buildings that are still standing thousands of years later, but they were also able to excavate these intricate tunnels underground that still stand largely unscathed. It was truly fascinating. Despite the crazy roads and sketchy accommodations and frustrations with the locals, I was glad we went. It’s not truly an adventure without some unexpected excitement, right? 🙂

If you’re interested in finding out more about the people of Chavin, check out this documentary:

Here is a video of some of the tunnels beneath Chavin. When I say “hey,” I’m talking to Caro, who had managed to get across the gully right in front of me and was waving at me from the other side of the little window: 

Salt mines and ancient nurseries

After leaving Machu Picchu, we headed back to Cuzco to spend a few more days with our dear friends Yuri, Roxi, and little Matthew.  It feels kind of strange calling them “dear friends” when I’ve only known them for a week or so now, but I really do think of them as such. They’re the type of people whom I fully expect to stay in touch with, and when they invited me to come back to visit with my husband after I get married, I actually think that that may realistically happen one day.  Bonus points for the fact that they had me pray my first ever prayer in Spanish! (a skill that, as it turns out, I would need to have when I translated for the medical missions trip a few weeks later ^_^.  But that was still in the unknown future at this point…)

2014-05-22 20.32.30 2014-05-22 20.29.54

Anyway, back to the story. The first day back in Cuzco was pretty chill – we got back from Aguascalientes around noon, had lunch with the family, and then spent the afternoon doing laundry, writing, and just relaxing. Yuri and Roxi are so nice and friendly…every time they’re home, we have such nice conversations about anything and everything, and they’re always willing to explain unknown Spanish words or specific Peruvian slang to us :).

A view of the entire city center from the top of a giant statue:

2014-05-21 02.24.21

Cuzco is one of the only cities in Latin America to have TWO cathedrals in its main square

2014-05-21 00.34.00 2014-05-21 01.38.46 2014-05-21 03.08.48 2014-05-21 03.20.00 2014-05-21 01.53.50 2014-05-21 03.31.26 2014-05-21 03.41.49

The next day, Wednesday, Roxi drove us into town and dropped us off at the handicraft market in downtown Cuzco. We had heard that they have very fair prices for their wares, and indeed they did – some of the cheapest I’ve seen in all of Peru. While there, we both made friends with some of the vendors – Caro had one guy give her a little magnet as a gift, and I met a man named Cristian who offered to walk with us and show us the city later in the week. I ended up not calling him, because we left earlier than we thought we were going to, but I was fully planning on contacting him. He was a very nice guy; I really enjoyed talking to him. Particularly since, even though I knew he was a vendor, I didn’t get the feeling that he only wanted to talk to me to sell me something. He actually wanted to talk to ME. That’s rare in Peru.

In the afternoon, Caro and I split up. I decided to walk around and explore the city center and visit the museums and such. During my wanderings, I struck up conversations with a few other people…most notably Hector, an employee at one of the museums I went to. He told me lots of history about the city, and then we moved on to more important topics like his family, friends, and faith.  That is what I love so much about traveling.  It’s not the cool sights or exotic foods or amazing pictures.  It’s meeting people with vastly different backgrounds from my own and seeing what makes them tick.  Hearing about their lives.  Learning about their passions and preoccupations.  That’s what makes life rewarding – it’s not just investing in yourself so that you have a bunch of cool stories, but rather investing in other and hearing their stories.

The day after, we went to see the Andean village of Chinchero, the salt mines of Maras and the experimental agricultural fields of Moray. Even though the day was grey and drizzly, that was still one of my favorite days of the trip so far.

We were supposed to take a tour with a big tour bus. But they overbooked the trip, and so we ended up on basically a private tour – just us, two Australian siblings who are traveling the word together for an entire year, and our fascinating driver, Rolando Santos. That was a wayyyy better deal than the big tour bus. The Australians, Matt and Emily, didn’t speak any Spanish, so I got to play translator for them, while also just getting to know them better throughout the course of the day. I really enjoyed that. They’re fascinating people, and I really admired their willingness to uproot their lives for an entire year. I don’t think I could do it, though. This trip of five weeks is about as long as I can go of continuous travel.

So anyway, on to Chichero.  Peru is known for their artisan handicrafts that are extremely popular purchases among tourists.  But one thing that I hadn’t realized is that each individual village that sells such handicrafts has slightly different patterns and slightly different methods employed to make the brightly colored and intricately designed fabrics.  Chinchero is one such village.  When we got there it was cold and rainy, but they took us to covered awnings and gave us hot tea, so it was all good.  We got to watch a few demonstrations of how they make the fabric – how they clean the wool, dye the yarn, and weave the designs.  It was very interesting.  Definitely not something that you get to see in the States!

2014-05-21 22.10.41
2014-05-21 22.17.44
2014-05-21 22.19.42


2014-05-21 23.20.01

Nothing particularly symbolic about this plant. I just thought it was cool 🙂

When we were planning this trip (I use the term “plan” quite loosely, as in reality very little of it was actually planned), I had originally wanted to go to the famous salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia.  The largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni is (I’m told) one of the strangest places you’ll ever see.  However, in the end we decided that there wasn’t really time for that on this trip (although they’re definitely still on the list!!), so the salt mines of Maras was kind of a compromise. Although actually quite different from Salar de Uyuni, they were still fascinating, nonetheless.

The salt mines are fed by a subterranean mountain stream that is comprised of over 50% salt. That in itself makes it very unique, as almost all other salt water comes from the ocean. The salt water is fed into thousands of different pools; the pools are then left so that the water can evaporate, and the salt is then harvested. There are 3 different types of salt harvested in Maras – white table salt, pink salt, and then salt used for industrial or medicinal purposes. The different kinds of salt all have to do with different levels of evaporation that the pools have undergone before being harvested. It was really a fascinating, truly unique place.

2014-05-21 23.22.32

They stretched on forever!!

2014-05-21 23.44.56

This is an example of how the mines were fed with salt water – water ran continuously through the troughs on the right. When the mines needed to be filled with water, the little gullies were cleared, and when enough water had filled into the pool, the gully was blocked with rocks, as it is now. They then allowed the water to evaporate from the pool so that they could harvest the salt.

2014-05-21 23.39.22 2014-05-21 23.30.05

Another fascinating place, albeit completely different from Maras, was Moray. Thousands of years old, Moray is comprised of a series of terraced levels of earth. Somehow, each level has it’s own unique temperature – there is a temperature span of over 20 degrees between the top and bottom layers. The Incans used this area as an experimental agricultural field, to see which seeds grew the best in which climates (in the video below I said I didn’t know what it was for, but afterwards I went and found out). They also used it as a sort of nursery – plants of different ages were put in different levels, and grown there until they were mature enough to be moved and put into a regular field.

2014-05-22 00.58.36 2014-05-22 00.53.54 2014-05-22 01.26.11

It’s amazing to me how much diversity there is in and around Cuzco.  In a single day, we saw salt mines, traditional weaving, and ancient agricultural fields.  And we weren’t even starting to scratch the surface of what is in and around the city.  However, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to move on from Cuzco.  Yuri and Roxi had actually invited us to stay the weekend so that they could take us to see the ruins and Sacred Valley in the outskirts of Cuzco, but at the end of the day we decided that if we stayed there any longer, we wouldn’t be able to go everywhere in the north that we wanted to go.  And so, onward we went…and then the REAL adventure began!

Machu Picchu – maravilla del mundo

(I have to apologize in advance…this is a very long post.  Not huge amounts of text, but there are lots and lots of pictures and videos ;])

We woke up at 5:00 on Monday morning, so that we could catch the first bus from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu at 5:30.  Even at that ungodly hour, there was a huge line of people waiting to go the rest of the way up the mountain. And the line continued once we arrived at the entrance. Despite the unexpected amount of people, however, our timing was actually pretty good. We made it to the entrance gate by the time Machu Picchu opened at 6:00, which gave us a little bit of time to walk around the grounds before there were too many people, like there would be in the afternoon. We were a bit nervous at first – it had poured most of the night before, and we were worried that it would continue into the day.  But it turned out to just be cloudy, which helped with the heat and actually made it quite a nice day.

Here are a few videos from Machu Picchu itself:

So at 7:00, we made our way to the entrance of Huayna Picchu, a neighboring mountain. That was our entrance time to begin our ascent – they only allow 400 people on Huayna Picchu a day, and we were fortunate enough to snag entrance passes by buying our tickets over a month before we left. There were 2 options, an easy and a hard climb; of course we chose the harder one. I couldn’t come all this way and then take the easy way up the mountain! :-). While we waited to be let in, we struck up a conversation with a fascinating couple from California, Kim and Sally. Kim is a photographer, and he has been all over the world taking pictures of different news and travel stories. Together, they’re an intrepid traveling couple who has seen nearly every country in the world together. They became our buddies for the rest of the climb – when one of us got tired, the others would encourage them to keep pushing, so we all made it up to the top.

The encouragement was definitely needed. The climb was…challenging, to say the least. Thousands of stairs stood between us and our goal. And these were no ordinary stairs. Some were nearly two feet high, others so narrow that even my tiny feet couldn’t fit sideways on them. Often there were sheer cliffs that fell away just inches from where the side of the steps ended. My fear of heights was definitely kicking in with a vengeance. And of course, don’t forget to factor in the altitude – Huayna Picchu stands over 8500 feet above sea level. It’s truly amazing how much high altitude messes with your body when you’re not used to it. Caro and I are both in fairly good shape, but we still had to stop every few minutes or so just to catch our breaths.

Here’s an example of some of the stairs, tunnels, and ladders we had to climb to get to Huayna Picchu:

But getting to the top made all of the effort worth it. When we first got there the entire mountain was shrouded in fog, so we had to wait a while before the clouds cleared and we could catch a decent view. But it was truly gorgeous. And, although the clouds were a bit frustrating at times, I kind of liked them – they added to the mystery and excitement of the whole experience.

Coming down, though, while physically easier, was wayyyyy harder for me. Fears of heights are much more applicable when you are going down instead of up. By the time we got to the bottom my poor legs were like jello from having been shaking the entire way down. But I did it!! I was really proud of myself :).  After the climb, we spent a few more hours at Machu Picchu itself. We learned a ton about it without even having to pay for a guide – the advantage of understanding both English and Spanish is that you can sidle up to pretty much any tour and hear what the guide is saying without having to pay for anything ;).

To head down the mountain back to Aguascalientes, there are of course buses available for a small fee. But there is also a stairway, hewn out of the side of the mountain, for those hardy souls who didn’t endure enough punishment climbing Huayna Picchu. Guess which route we chose? Oh yes. The stairs. Only ten minutes into the trip, we were regretting our decision.  But by then it was too late. So we shouldered on, and finally reached Aguascalientes about 2 hours later. It made for a very long day. But it was fun. And totally worth the hassle. Worth the multiple bus rides, the train ride, the hike, the money, the sore muscles, the bug bites on steroids (I was left with scars from the bugs of Machu Picchu)…everything. All throughout Peru, the sort of unofficial slogan for Machu Picchu is “maravilla del mundo” (marvel of the world).  While it is admittedly a somewhat cheesy slogan, it is undoubtedly true.  I don’t generally like super touristy places, and Machu Picchu is one of the most touristy places in the world, but Machu Picchu is indeed a marvel, and definitely worth putting up with the tourists.  I ended that day a very happy camper, indeed :).
2014-05-18 18.22.52 2014-05-18 18.27.54 2014-05-18 18.32.15 2014-05-18 18.34.06 2014-05-18 18.34.33 2014-05-18 18.35.58 2014-05-18 18.36.05 2014-05-18 18.41.57 2014-05-18 18.45.12 2014-05-18 19.42.10 2014-05-18 19.48.27 2014-05-18 20.26.52 2014-05-18 20.27.47 2014-05-18 20.36.18 2014-05-18 21.58.55 2014-05-18 22.25.23 2014-05-18 22.32.38 2014-05-18 22.36.14 2014-05-18 22.36.26 2014-05-18 22.41.07 2014-05-18 23.46.42 2014-05-18 23.59.36 2014-05-19 00.02.04 2014-05-19 00.04.12 2014-05-19 00.10.40 2014-05-19 00.29.58 2014-05-19 00.54.14 2014-05-19 01.25.40 2014-05-19 01.31.54 2014-05-19 01.36.01 2014-05-19 01.57.45 2014-05-19 02.02.47 2014-05-19 02.02.55 2014-05-19 03.26.13


The morning after arriving in Cuzco, Sunday, Yuri and Roxi gave us a ride to the bus station. It wasn’t really a bus, but a colectivo, a minivan in which they cram as many people as possible and strap all your stuff on top. Because we’d bought our tickets so late, we had to leave from a farther station, which is why we needed to take the colectivo to get there. So we arrived in this tiny town called Ollantaytambo around noon, and then were able to take the train to our final destination of Aguascalientes.

To see just how remote Aguascalientes is, and some of the passes that we had to cross to get there, check out this short video: Train to Aguascalientes

While in the train on our way to Aguascalientes, we got to meet some really fascinating people. Two of my favorites were Natalia and Señor DeBere. Natalia is a Russian national, but has been living in Norway for many years. She was traveling throughout Peru for about a month, all by herself – and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Whew. That’s either incredibly brave or terribly stupid, I can’t decide which. Completely blows out of the water the pair of girls that I met in the plane on the way to Lima who were winging it together around Peru for 2 weeks :).  The other interesting person was Señor DeBere.  Señor DeBere was from Chile, and on vacation with his entire family. Super nice, super friendly, we had a lovely conversation with him almost the entire 1.5 hour ride to Aguascalientes. And we actually got to see him twice more, once in the city and once in Machu Picchu itself.

The train runs right through the center of the town – for someone who almost never sees trains, it’s pretty cool to watch:

Upon arrival, the first order of the day was finding a place to stay, as we had no idea where we were sleeping when we got there. I’ve got to say, although this whole traveling without any sort of plan at all is difficult for my type-A personality, it’s also rather fun.  I enjoy being spontaneous and flexible and just seeing what life throws at you and taking it one day at a time.  It’s certainly a great way to force someone who’s wound too tightly to relax a bit! 🙂  After finding somewhere to stay, we went and checked out the huge handmade craft market, one of the few things to do in the very very tiny town.  I even did some haggling for a few gifts while I was there! I was proud of myself – I find haggling incredibly difficult to do, and generally just don’t bother buying something if I’m not willing to pay the full price.  But hey, this is how it’s done in Peru – when in Rome, right?

Anyway, after taking freezing cold showers (especially ironic considering the name of the town) we went to sleep early. The next day, Machu Picchu, was gonna be a long one, and we wanted plenty of energy to enjoy it!!

2014-05-18 01.40.23

Mr. DeBere and Caroline 🙂

2014-05-18 02.50.03 2014-05-18 03.10.47 2014-05-18 02.59.30 2014-05-18 03.10.10 2014-05-18 03.11.50 2014-05-18 05.09.59

Unexpected adventures in Cuzco

As I mentioned in the last entry, we left Nazca Friday night on an overnight bus headed to Cuzco.  That was quite possibly the worst night of the entire trip. The bus alternated between freezing cold and burning up, the seats didn’t recline all the way so sleeping was really difficult, and the roads were super windy. Add to that the fact that we were on the top level of a double decker bus and I’m positive the driver was certifiably insane, and we were definitely not happy campers when we finally arrived in Cuzco 14 hours later. Not only were we exhausted and nauseous, we were also battling altitude sickness from the extremely high elevation in Cuzco.

But it was all better after a few hours. Mario has friends in Cuzco, and they had said that they were willing to host us while we were there. And when they said “host,” they didn’t just mean give us a bed to sleep in for a few days.  They’re just absolutely incredible – some of the nicest, most generous people you’ve ever met. All 3 of them – Yuri and Roxi and their little 5 year old boy Matthew – picked us up from the bus station. They gave us coca tea, which supposedly helps with altitude sickness, brought lunch back to us after we’d arrived to the house and were settling in, and just were incredibly warm and welcoming. They were also so patient and willing to put up with our less-than-stellar Spanish, and because of that we had some really great conversations – we talked about everything from religion to infertility to soccer to education to politics. Truly some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I’m so grateful that our paths crossed.

They also helped us solve possibly the biggest problem we’ll have on our entire trip. We knew that tickets to Machu Picchu sell out well in advance, so we had bought ours weeks ago. What we had failed to buy was the train ticket to get to Aguascalientes, the tiny town that serves as a jumping-off point for anyone who wants to go to Machu Picchu. We needed to get there on Sunday, but by the time we arrived in Cuzco on Saturday the tickets were almost all sold out. We found a few spots left online, but couldn’t buy them because the site kept rejecting both my and Caro’s credit cards. By this point it was around 8:45 pm, and we had spent nearly 2 hours trying to buy tickets. So Roxi called the ticketing office in downtown Cuzco, and they told her that there were a few spots left, but we’d have to buy them from the office, which was 30 minutes away – and they closed at 9:45.  So Yuri rushed us into the car and drove us there himself, and we were able to buy tickets just before the office closed. Whew. I knew this trip would be an adventure, but I didn’t bargain for stuff like this!  I’m just super grateful that we were with Yuri and Roxi – no one else would have been willing to help us as much as they did.


Some pictures of Yuri and Roxi’s lovely house that they are so gracious and generous in sharing with wandering strangers like me and Caroline 🙂 – 

2014-05-17 02.52.18 2014-05-17 02.52.25 2014-05-17 02.52.32 2014-05-17 02.52.42

The ancient and surreal mysteries of Nazca

Thursday morning Mario headed with me to the bus station. I was heading to Nazca to meet my friend Caroline. She was my French teacher at Berry, and we’ve been great friends ever since. Anyway, while I’m quite confident in my ability to navigate a Spanish speaking country, Lima was loud and chaotic and enormous and dangerous, and I was very glad for Mario’s guidance. I tried to take the same bus Caro had taken to Nazca, Suarez Peru, but apparently that bus doesn’t exist. No one had ever heard of it, lol. (Actually I asked her about that when I finally met up with her, and she was confident in the name of the company; I guess there are just too many bus companies even for Peruvians to keep straight! :]) So I took a different bus line, and arrived in the transit city of Ica about 5 hours later. I had to find a different bus company to go from Ica to Nazca, a journey of another 4 hours, but I finally got there. I’m glad that I actually ended up going to Nazca, because I had a brain fart and was originally trying to go to Cusco. Whoops. I didn’t even have any jet lag to blame that on, lol.

Exhausted and with a blazing headache from not having eaten all day, I just wanted to go to sleep. But when I got to the hostel, I was told that Caro had the only key, and she had gone out to look for me. Dang. I waited for her for a while, but then decided to venture out and see if I could find her.  As I was walking through the tiny town, a Peruvian man started talking to me. At first I thought it was just normal street vendors trying to hawk their wares, but for whatever reason this time I decided to engage him in conversation, rather than ignore him.  All in Spanish, I told him that I was an American who had just arrived and was looking for my friend. “Is your friend French?” he asked me. I’m sure my look of confusion was strikingly evident. “Yeah, her name’s Caroline, right? I know where she is. Wait here and I’ll bring her to you.”

I was somewhat skeptical, but true to his word, he arrived a few minutes later with Caro in tow. She had gotten to Nazca 3 days before me and had apparently made friends with the entire town. On at least four or five other occasions, people walked up to me already knowing who I was because they’d met Caro. It was somewhat bizarre, a bit unsettling, and also completely hilarious. She was a total celebrity :-).

Anyway, I was only in Nazca for about a day, so the first thing on the agenda the next day was definitely seeing the lines of Nazca.  The Nazca lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs stretching nearly 50 miles across the dry, arid plains of the Nazca region in southern Peru.  They were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.  Although they are believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD, no one really knows their purpose.  Theories range from religious rituals to giant astronomical calendars to irrigation schemes.  Created by removing the pebbles that litter the ground to reveal the whitish-gray ground beneath, they range from simple geometric designs to stylized animals such as hummingbirds, monkeys, sharks, and orcas, and can sometimes stretch over 650 feet across.  It’s incredible to me that with such simple construction techniques, they’re still around after all this time – the arid and windless climate of Nazca has ensured that the lines have remained relatively intact.

Since the lines are so enormous, it’s best to see the lines from the air.  We actually got to see the lines of both Nazca and a nearby region called Palpa, as well as ancient aqueducts that had been constructed by the inhabitants of Nazca. It was really quite terrific. I love the mystery behind the lines. Thousands and thousands of intricate pictures and geometric designs large enough to be seen from the sky, preserved for hundreds and hundreds of years in the arid climate, and still no one knows why they are there. It was worth the money and the hassle to go there, but I must admit I was very glad when the plane ride ended – the choppy turbulence in the tiny 4-seater Cesna and the dipping and swooping of the pilot so that we could better see the lines was really wreaking havoc on my poor stomach.

2014-05-15 23.45.32 2014-05-15 23.52.08 2014-05-16 00.20.49 2014-05-16 00.35.19

Here’s an aerial video of us flying over the lines:

After a short rest from seeing the lines, we ventured out again, this time with a tour company called Enigma Nazca tours. If you are ever in Nazca, I highly recommend them. They took us first to see a burial ground called Chauchilla. Like the lines, it was a somewhat eerie experience. The climate is so hot and dry in Nazca that the bodies had been mummified almost instantly – many of them still had skin on their frames, and almost all of them still had hair. It was fascinating, but somewhat unsettling at the same time. The bodies were in open-air holes, so really the only thing separating us from them was a thin cord.

2014-05-16 03.41.27 2014-05-16 03.52.09 2014-05-16 03.47.02 2014-05-16 04.05.44

After Chauchilla, we headed over to an ancient ceremonial temple called Cahuachi. Believed to be a ceremonial and pilgrimage site, the over 40 pre-Incan adobe structures span over 1.5 kilometers squared.  There were very clear markers as to where we were allowed to go, but because we were the only ones there, our guide Cristian let us go past them and explore the entire site. He was pretty cool :-). He also apparently danced bachata, and I was seriously soooo close to asking them to pull over on the side of the road so we could dance a song together. It’s been ages since I’ve danced bachata. But alas, I didn’t ask…maybe next time ;-).

2014-05-16 05.24.13 2014-05-16 05.30.28 2014-05-16 05.38.02 2014-05-16 05.47.47

Apparently the Enigma tour guides also enjoyed their time with us, because at the end of the day they took a video of us and promoted it on their website.  You can check it out here (although it’s all in Spanish): Enigma Tours video.  There were also a few pictures of us that they uploaded; the caption said, “we’re so happy to have met such charismatic tourists!” :).

Our last stop in Nazca was at the workshop of a traditional pottery maker named Toby. What a character. He gave us a fascinating demonstration of how he makes the pottery, and once he found out where Caro and I were from he kept throwing in random French and English words, too. I wish we had had time to stay longer – I really enjoyed the time spent there. But alas, we had to catch an overnight bus to Cuzco – more on that in the next entry!!

2014-05-16 06.42.41 2014-05-16 06.51.12

Inauspicious beginnings

My first trip to South America had a rather inauspicious beginning. My plane was supposed to leave at 11:00 in the morning of Tuesday, May 13th;  however, I got an email notification that morning saying that it had been delayed until 12:30. Ok, no biggie, I’ll just get there a bit later. Michael, Elizabeth and Matt all saw me to the airport – I felt very loved. But then after we arrived, as I was checking in around 10:07, I looked at the departure board and saw that my plane had been moved back to its original time. Yikes! I spent the next 50 minutes in a panicked rush through the Atlanta airport, getting there just before 11:00. All that hustle and stress, and then the plane didn’t actually leave until almost 1:00. Apparently the crew got lost – that was why we left so late, cuz they just hadn’t shown up earlier :p.

But no worries, I still had a layover of several hours in Fort Lauderdale, even despite the delay in Atlanta.  I met a fascinating man named Joseph while I was waiting. He is Haitian, but grew up in the States, and is now back in Haiti working in an agricultural organization that he started to help the people of Haiti. He was a very inspiring man. I wish I could have spoken with him longer.

But anyway, my second flight was fairly uneventful. I met two girls, Adriana and Laura, who were doing a similar thing as I – winging it for the whole trip. Except their trip was only for 2 weeks, and not only had Laura never left the country before, but she didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I thought that was a pretty gutsy trip for your first time out of the country :-).

I arrived in Lima around 10:00 pm. Mario, my pastor from South Korea who, conveniently enough for me, happens to be Peruvian, picked me up from the airport.  I stayed with him for the 2 nights that I was in Lima. I was glad for his company and advice. Peru is a completely different world. Nothing is done the same way as it is in the states.  The first thing that I saw as we were leaving the airport was a mass of taxi drivers. There was basically an auction for our business once we got there – Mario told the “auctioneer” how much we were willing to spend on a taxi, and he found a taxi driver willing to drive us for that price. Forget metered taxis – everything is bartering in Peru :-).  It’s a blessing and a curse – they can’t run up the meter by driving around in circles, but if you don’t know where you’re going they can still take advantage of you.  I quickly learned to ask nearby pedestrians how much a ride should cost, and then flag down a taxi driver.  That way I knew if he was charging me a fair price or not.

Anyway, the day after I arrive Mario took me on a city tour of Lima.  We had ice cream made from lúcuma, a fruit which is only found in Peru. We also went all the way across town to eat lunch at a great Peruvian buffet.  It was so far away that we actually had to take 2 taxis, because no 1 taxi would take us that far, but Mario was determined to not expose me to “Peruvian germs,” to use his terminology.  It was great food, but probably unnecessary to go to such lengths to protect me from germs.  I wasn’t going to take that much care in my diet for the rest of the trip – might as well get exposed early on! 😉

My favorite part of the day, though, was definitely a 2-hour bus tour of Lima that we went on.  We saw lovely parks, and beautiful old churches, and even a monk jump off a cliff into the frigid water far below (apparently a monk from that order does that several times every day; the restaurant located on the same cliff they jump off of is even named “The Friar’s Jump.”) I had to really focus on the Spanish explanations rattling through the tinny speakers, though. My Spanish is no longer good enough that I can understand without actively listening :-(. Oh well, hopefully it’ll improve in the next month :-). Here’s to a grand 5 weeks!!

photo 4 (0) photo 3 (2) photo 4 (1) photo 5 (1) photo 4 (5) photo 5 (5) photo 5 (3) photo 2 (6) photo 4 (6) photo 3 (8) photo 4 (7) photo 2 (8)
(If you look closely, you can see the monk in a brown habit crawling back up the middle of the cliff after his insane jump into the water)