Monday, July 13, 2015

Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and on to Bolivia

Waking up the next day, we had a quick breakfast of bread and coffee at the bus-stop restaurant close to the hostel and waited for the temperature to rise a bit before taking off.

Our second attempt at crossing the pass was much more enjoyable.  The weather was a bit cold, but clear and beautiful.  We could see the evidence of the last night's snow storm and were glad we decided to turn around.

At close to fifteen-thousand feet, we could feel the elevation, but it never got so bad that it was an issue while riding.  On the way to Cusco we went over several tall passes, saw lagoons filled with pink flamingos, and tons of llamas and vicunyas on the side of the road.  The scenery was beautiful.

Arriving in Cusco, we find the city crowded and just about every hotel and hostel booked.  After much searching, the sun was setting and we got lucky and bumped into other motorcyclists that were staying at a very motorcycle friendly hostel, not too far from the famous Norton Rats tavern, a motorcycle traveler hangout filled with stickers and T-shirts from around the world.

Cusco is a very interesting city.  It was the capitol of the Incan empire until the Spanish conquest, and is where the emperor lived.  While it is probably the most touristy city in Peru, it still has a lot of awesome history and architecture to keep your attention.

In Cusco we lined up all our train tickets and entry fees for Machu Picchu.  We used an agent, and negotiated a good deal.  The plan was to ride up the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo  (my favorite Peruvian town name to say), and make a day trip to Machu Picchu.

We took dirt roads on the way to Ollantaytambo from Cusco, and stopped the archaelological  site at Moray.  This site is very unique because there are large, terraced depressions in the ground that were supposedly used for the Incan scientists to test different orientations, depths, levels, soils, and condition for farming.  These guys were so advanced for their time.  Really mind-blowing.

Ollantaytambo was one of the biggest surprises of our whole trip.  While it was touristy, most people are just passing through, and not really staying there.  The tour buses from Cusco just use it as a place to drop tourist off at the train.  Exploring the town you realize that this is a real Inca village, complete with the original streets and walls of the buildings.  It is pretty surreal staying in a place that old.

View of Ollantaytambo's main square, the original from Incan times.  In the background you can see the guard towers on the hills.

Our accommodations in Ollantaytambo

The next morning we boarded the train to Machu Picchu.  When we took our seats, we couldn't believe our eyes: our friend Davish sitting in the seats across from us.  We met Davish in Guatemala City, and traveled with him for a day before parting ways.  What a crazy chance encounter a couple of months later.  When we arrived at Machu Picchu,  it was raining buckets, and there was a long line to get in, but we didn't care.  This would be one of the highlights of our trip.

We'll spare you all the details about Machu Picchu, since it is probably the most well known destination in South America, but I'll just say this:  this ancient site is even more impressive in person than it is in pictures.  It is a very "modern" ancient city, having been built not long before, and during the Spanish inquisition.  There is a lot of technology and engineering at this site. I'd recommend it to anyone.

On our way out of Ollantaytambo we stopped and hiked through more ruins in the Sacred Valley and made our way towards Lake Titicaca.  Once again, we were stopped by a snow storm and had to double back and find a hostel.  The next day we made it to the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.  It's not much to look at from the Peruvian side, but still pretty cool.

After stopping in the town of Puno and seeing it all packed with people, and all the lodging booked up, we decided to head somewhere closer to our border crossing that is a little smaller.  One of the travel books we had suggested the town of Juli.  When we got there, we were less than impressed.  Off the path of the tourists, this place was pretty down-and-out.  Nowhere to camp, and only a couple of dirty hostels were available.  The one we ended up with was completely vacant (for a reason), run by a mean 8 year old boy, and was the nastiest room we had ever stayed in (our standards are pretty low too).  The sheets had clearly never been washed, and the room was filthy.  I guess you can't expect much for $8.  Our camping gear definitely came into play that night.

We knew we were going to like Peru, but we really had no idea it would be this much.  Between the history, culture, food, and people, it has been one of the biggest highlights of our trip. Tomorrow we gas up and head into Bolivia.  We've heard a lot of things about the country, and really don't know what to expect.  Having spent a lot more time in Peru than we anticipated, it'll be nice to be somewhere new.

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