31 May 2008

Back to Regular Programming

So, I finally finished my travelogue series of my recent trip to Peru. I am now back in Buffalo, and back to reality. Well, semi-reality I suppose, since the school is not in session, and my routine is not established. Rather, I do things here and there, run errands here and there, and plan things here and there.

So, let me restart my series of book reviews. I guess the last time you found me reading a book was when I was reading this book, which was actually a book that I bought in a used-book store almost a year ago. I put it in my shelf, and never touched it until now, when I knew that I would be traveling and then I wanted something to read without having to return it to a library. Yeah, I remember when I went to Ecuador, I read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, this time, Peru had me reading Jacquelyn Mitchard.

So yeah, this is one great read. I can see people saying that this may be chick-lit, and for that, Oprah selected it to be a part of her book club. But yes, this book is heavy on the drama. I guess it is not the best travel reading, especially when you are reading about a family whose every conceivable tragedy has befallen them.

But, if drama is your kind of thing, then go ahead and pick this one up. I happen to have left my copy in Ollantaytambo.

So, I finished that, and started with this one. It is entitled Insect Dreams, by Marc Estrin. This is designed to be a sequel to Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. I haven't read that Kafka book (the only Kafka book I have read was The Trial, and it left my head whirling), but still, I am enjoying this one. Here, a man named Gregor Samsa, originally from Prague, was turned into a large cockroach, and he becomes an exhibit, flies to the USA from Vienna, and does all sorts of things. He meets real people, like Roentgen, Wittgenstein, and others.

Anyway, aside from my reading progress, things have progressed as well, in other arenas. My baby Magnus, for example. Before I left, I met with my adviser, who read my first draft. He then gave me comments about it, and after I came back, I revised it. So, while I was publishing my one-entry-a-day travelogue, I was revising my qualifying paper. It was not major, but semi-major. I needed to consolidate things, and rewrite some sections, clarifying what I was saying. So, yesterday, I finished chopping up my baby and reassembling him. So I gave my adviser my second draft, and hopefully, the revisions for this one isn't as bad as the first.

It seems that I am going to do more traveling than what I originally planned for this summer. But, the documents are not with me yet, so I will clarify this once I am sure of the plans. Those in the know already know it, but to those who don't know it yet, just hang in there. Some element of surprise is also essential in this blog.

I took about 1687 photos while I was in Peru. And given the fact that I am posting pictures here once per entry, and since I still have a great backlog of pictures to show (I still am in the middle of my Watkins Glen Series, and my pictures from Washington DC still hasn't come up yet, which number around 900), it is indeed a certainty that my readers won't be able to see it within the next year if I simply let my posts carry one picture at a time. Thus, I have resolved that I will give my dear readers a link to them once I finish uploading them online. Yes, I am not yet finished uploading them. And yes, I am breaking the fourth wall.

So there, I am back to regular programming. I wish you all a wonderful summer.

(Cavern Cascade, from my Watkins Glen Series)

29 May 2008

Day 10: All Good Things Must Come to an End

Well, it is my last day in the continent. It is time to get back home. Funny, because the day before, I was in this shop, looking for souvenirs, when Nelly Furtado started playing in the radio. And it was none other than her song All Good Things. Indeed, all good things come to an end. And this one is about to come to an end as well.

So, I checked out of my final hotel at 5:00 AM, and there was already a taxi waiting for me, which I called for the day before. He took me to the still sleeping Cuzco Airport, and I was actually the first person to check-in.

So, after checking in, and paying the airport tax, I headed over to the departure gates, and waited for my plane. The first flight to arrive was from another airline, and they were using a Boeing 737-200 for that one. Wow. Now I know why that type of aircraft is being phased out. They were so noisy! It was like the whole sky was exploding. My ride, on the other hand, was on a new Airbus A319, and I actually didn't hear it arrive. It just pulled into the gate.

So, I boarded my flight, and headed to Lima. I was fortunate to get an exit row seat, so there was plenty of legroom. But what do I care about legroom? I am not tall, and my legs aren't long.

So, I arrived in Lima, and I had a couple of hours to burn, before my next flight to Bogota. I went to an Internet cafe, uploaded a few photos, went to the post office, mailed my postcards, had breakfast, had lunch, and then waited for the check-in counters to open. So, at three hours before departure time, it opened, and so I got my boarding passes for my flight to Bogota and then to New York City.

The flights were uneventful. But I was there, dreamy, sleepy, pondering over the events of the past few days. Unbelievable. Machu Picchu. Ollantaytambo. Pisac. Urubamba. Maras. Now, they aren't just exotic locales that I read in the Internet and the encyclopedias. They're real places, filled with living people, and they will live forever wherever I go, in my head. They would be there, if I needed to escape, if I needed to walk on memory lane, waiting for another visit.

28 May 2008

Day 9: When The Whole City Woke Up

So, I am nearing the end of my trip. I left the Sacred Valley today, checking out of my hotel in Ollantaytambo after eating breakfast. Then, I headed to the main plaza of the town and caught a colectivo, another one of those shared taxis that ferry people from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba.

There were no chickens this time, but plenty of people. Again, I climbed the van to the top of the roof and tied my big backpack on the rack, so that it would not fall whenever the van makes its rapid turns, because, again, the driver has a death wish. Good thing I waited for a new van to pull up before boarding, so that I got to have a good seat.

The rest of the passengers were locals. I was the only guiri on board. The rest were people speaking in Spanish and Quechua. And my oh my, I cannot believe how many people were inside the van. It was like one of those circus shows, where the clowns try to fit as much people as they can in a small Beetle.

Well, for this van, regardless if the seats were already taken, the driver would still stop and pick up passengers if the people on the road raise their hand and ask the driver to stop. And they boarded in and squeezed themselves.

So, after that interesting ride to Urubamba, I then changed transportation in the same terminal. I then boarded a bus to Cuzco. I boarded the bus to Cuzco that passes by Chinchero, although I could have boarded the bus that passes by Pisac instead. The thing that made the choice was that there was no passengers yet on the Chinchero bus, so I can select a seat that has sufficient space for my backpack without putting it on the cargo hold.

So, I reached Cuzco after about two and a half hours from my initial departure in Ollantaytambo. I then took a taxi to my hotel. This is my first hotel since coming in to the country, and once again, I met the hospitable people. I then put my things down, and it was almost time for lunch, so I headed out.

It happened to be a Sunday, and there seems to be an event here in Cuzco. It seems that the whole population of the city was in the city plaza. There were parades, people dancing, people wearing masks, and people playing music. I took some photos, and I even went to a restaurant that had a balcony table, to which I occupìed, so that I could watch the whole scene unfolding.

Every type of costume were there, from people simply wearing their Sunday best, to beautiful intricate Andean skirts, to folk masks, to people wearing the Cuzco flag. It was quite an experience.

Here is a photo of the women with the colorful Andean skirts.

Some more people parading. Notice the stop sign, with the word PARE on it. In Tagalog, it means "dude". But in Spanish, it means to stop.

They also parade the statues, like this one.

Here are the red dancing girls, with the musicians following them from behind.

And then here are the grotesque group, with the whips in tow. Notice the Peruvian flag flying, together with the Cuzco flag. It is NOT the gay flag, for crying out loud.

Finally, here are the dancing children with the musicians. The girl on the foreground looks like she is possessed.

If you look at the next picture I took, you would really think that she is possessed.

After lunch, I went walking around the plaza, and hunted for souvenirs. I found these small artisan shops near the main plaza, and I got some souvenirs for the family.

I wasted time by frolicking around the city, taking photos of the performers. When dinnertime came, I went into this quiet Indian place, which has the best Indian food in Cuzco. I guess I had enough of Peruvian fare for the moment, and I wanted a change. It turned out to be good, I was talking to the owner as I was eating, and she gave me pointers as to where to go to India should I decide to visit.

And since it was my last night in Cuzco, I strolled around after dark, and took some night shots of the plaza. Like this one.

So there, I guess Sunday really brings the best in Cuzco. Most of the museums are closed, but the main attractions when it is a Sunday are the people themselves.

27 May 2008

Day 8: How To Be Not Pathetic

This is the day in which things start to wrap up. I originally planned to go up again to Machu Picchu, but I decided against it, since I guess I had more than enough time scouring the place the day before.

So, I did something else. My hotel wanted its guests to check out at 9:00 AM, which was kind of early, but with a reason. The thing is, the trains that ferry the tourists from Cuzco arrive early too, so the turnout of people happen earlier than in other locales. In fact, I arrived at around a few minutes past 9:00 AM yesterday myself.

So, I just had breakfast in the hotel, had a shower, and then checked out. I asked that my backpack be left first in the hotel lobby, which they kindly accommodated. The reason was because I wanted to explore the little town I was in while waiting for my train ride back to Ollantaytambo in the afternoon.

So, here I am, in Aguascalientes. This is a very touristy town, in fact, with tourist restaurants lining the railroad tracks, which also doubles as the main road of the town. There are a lot of handicrafts markets and construction. I guess that is because it is the gateway to the most famous archaeological ruins of the continent.

Anyway, everybody passes through here, and so did I. I have something good to say about my hotel, however. The river is right next to it, and the white rapids were lulling me to sleep. It felt very bizarrely wonderful, sleeping like that, as if I am in the middle of nature. Even though I have cable TV in my room. The sound of the water rushing against the rocks was wonderful, something that I have been experiencing since I was in Urubamba.

This is a shot of my hotel. Not so fancy, but the river gushing right in front of it was amazing.

As you can see, the clouds are very low in the morning.

This is the river which lulled me to sleep.

Finally, a picture of a statue of an Inca chief in the middle of the town square.

Now, this is the day in which I saw something which made me think that I would not
want to be, when I grow older. It has something to do with the other tourists.

I guess my readers already know that I have planned this trip myself, arranging everything, from flights, to hotels, to the other means of transportation. I like being in control, doing everything, or as much as possible, if not everything, by myself. Now I see these tourists, in tour groups, where everything is done for them.

There was one word that came to my mind: Pathetic.

I know that most of these tourists are advanced in age, and that most of the time, they only want to relax, and since they have the money to have someone else do it for them, then why not? However, I find it really unimaginable, that I would surrender the control of my movements to some agency. In breakfast, I overheard this elderly man asking the operator where they were going for the day. I never would imagine myself in that situation. Perhaps, I would join a full-package tour only if the country is rather unfriendly, or if the country requires tourists to join an official tour group, say, North Korea or Uzbekistan. However, if I can do it myself, then I would.

Then I saw the tour operator handing back their passports. Wow. I guess I am too libertarian to be in that situation.

Then I saw this lady, in the Internet café, who was clueless with regard to the Internet, simply because everything was in Spanish. My goodness, she was using MSN Messenger, the colors are the same, the buttons are the same, the blanks are the same. Only that they are in Spanish. But guess what? She asked the manager to explain what those are, but those are simply the places where one puts the username and password! But she acted like she was so lost, as if her brain instantly became catatonic. Unbelievable. Thay say that people who speak three languages are called trilingual, people who speak two languages are bilingual. However, people who speak only one language are called Americans. I guess I cannot over-emphasize the importance of learning the local language. It makes your experience more enjoyable.

Oh well. What can I do? I cannot apply Archimedes here. There is no linguistic lever and a place to stand and I can move the world.

26 May 2008

Day 7: Finding the Lost City

So, this is the day I was waiting for. I guess, I was waiting for this day so much, that I cannot even get some sleep the night before.

Yeah, I had dinner in Ollantaytambo, and went back to my hotel. I jumped in bed, and decided to get some sleep, given the fact that I was temple-raiding the afternoon before, but nothing came. I was tossing and turning in bed, but I could not fall asleep.

Maybe it was the book that I was reading. I finished the novel I was reading before, about a kidnapped child who was found nine years later. Maybe it was very emotionally draining, maybe it was the reason. Or maybe it was the simple excitement that I was about to see one of the most amazing human wonders that exists here on earth.

So, in order to lighten my load, I left the finished book in my hotel room. After all, I just bought it in a used-book store about a year ago, and never touched it until now. Good thing it was not one of those books I borrow in the library, or else I have to return it to the library, thus adding to my load. I guess that was why I never read it until now, when I know that I would be needing it for my trip and then I would finish it sometime while I am traveling.

So I think I got some sleep at around 1:00 AM, and woke up at around 5:00 AM. I got up early because my train ride leaves at 7:00. I then checked out and walked to the station, which was just 5 minutes away.

This is a shot of the train station in Ollantaytambo, where the mountain is very close by.

The mountain is very majestic from this point, as you can see in this photo, when the clouds reveal the rising sun.

I boarded the train, and it was one of the most beautiful train rides that I have experienced. The train that links Machu Picchu and the rest of the towns in the Sacred Valley is one of the highest in the world, with the Tibetan Railway as the highest. It was a very beautiful experience, riding a train in between the towering mountains of the Andes, both left and right.

This is a random shot of the scenery, with the Urubamba river following the tracks.

One can see Inca sites that can only be visited if one actually walked the Inca trail, which is the road system that the Incas developed during their time, where one can reach Machu Picchu from Cuzco in four days of walking through the mountains.

So after an hour and a half, I arrived in Aguascalientes, the town at the foot of the mountain that has Machu Picchu. I immediately found my hotel, deposited my backpack, and headed to the ruins.

I found the ticket office to the ruins (one must buy an entrance ticket to the ruins before heading to the mountain), bought a discounted ticket (due to me being a student), and headed to the bus station where the buses that ferry the people up and down the mountain wait for passengers.

The bus ride was amazing too. I am impressed at the drivers, who are able to navigate the steep switchbacks that are carved at the edge of the mountain, so that they can climb the mountain and reach the ruins. There is a hotel at the entrance of the ruins, a luggage depository, and some restrooms. I then got out of the bus and proceeded to the entrance.

Wow. It took me two years of planning in order to reach this place, the Inca ruins that the Spaniards did not even have an idea it existed. Of course, I took plenty of photos here.

Here is the classic shot. Believe it or not, it took me two full years in order to compose this photograph.

Machu Picchu is an amazing place. It indeed is a city, with different sections. The following shot is taken from the agricultural section, with its extensive terracing.

In order to discern how high the place is, look at the following photo, which is taken at my eye-level.

This is the typical Inca structure. The more polished it is, the more sacred. In the artisan's section of Machu Picchu, the structures are not as polished as the ones in the ceremonial section.

Compare the photo above, which was taken in the industrial sector, with the photo below, which is a photo of the collapsed corner of the Principal Temple. The Inca has done a better job in cutting and polishing the stone bricks here.

This is a picture of the Industrial Section and Huayna Picchu, taken from the Ceremonial Section. You can see the Artisan's Wall, where the grand staircase begins, and the large terraces leading to the top.

So there, after spending the whole afternoon meandering and exploring this lost city, I turned my camera into off, given the fact that I have taken more than 400 photos of this place, poking my head into every entrance, climbing any available staircase, and rediscovering the city that was once lost and hidden from humanity.

I cannot believe that I would actually visit this place, in my lifetime. As corny as it may sound, I was almost in tears while I was on the train on my way. Although I do not believe in New Age-type supernatural experiences, I have to say that the experience was mystical. To an extent, it was spiritual.

It made me think why I take these trips, where I lose myself. Last year, I went to Ecuador and climbed a couple of mountains. This year, I went to Peru and lost myself in the Sacred Valley. It made me wonder what exactly is the purpose of my trip. And I guess, it was a trip to escape. To escape from the routine of daily life. Do not get me wrong, I love what I do, I love what I do for a living. However, sometimes, one just gets into this routine like clockwork, that one sometimes feels numbed.

People sometimes bite their fingers in order to stay awake. I guess, in a similar vein, I go and travel great distances, and follow dangerous trails, where one wrong step can lead to my untimely death, and climb the peak of mountains. I guess the sense of danger in these situations, the rush of adrenaline that comes with it, the thought that one is in the wrong continent, surrounded by people speaking a different language, all of these factors combined confirm the fact that I am alive. That I am still here.

I have told people that I prefer Washington DC than New York for the reason that I feel dwarfed by the skyscrapers in New York City. Here in the Sacred Valley, I am dwarfed as well, but in a different sense. I see these mountains on my left and right, and I stand at the middle of the road, alone, lost, in a sense, and I cannot help feeling that I am small. But the feeling is one of amazement, not of disgust. It is indeed an amazement that I can be here, in the middle of the Peruvian Andes, riding taxis with chickens, and gaining a new perspective in life.

It opens your eyes, really. Some people say that traveling solo can be depressing, and they would not do it. However, I have never felt happier than before, as I ponder the thought that this is another accomplishment I can brag about. I never felt more alive.

25 May 2008

Day 6: Temple Raiding 101

For today, I woke up, enjoying the last few hours of my perfect stay at my mountain lodge in Urubamba. After having breakfast and taking a shower, I packed, and bid goodbye to Chalo and the rest of the people in my mountain lodge. I then caught a mototaxi which took me to the town terminal.

From the terminal, I then caught a colectivo heading to Ollantaytambo. A colectivo is a shared taxi, and so I tied my big backpack on the roof, next to the baggage of the other passengers, consisting of sacks, bicycles, and other boxes. Inside, I shared my seat with some chickens.

Anyway, after about thirty minutes of enduring the ride, driven by a driver with a death wish, I arrived in Ollantaytambo. I immediately spotted the Inca fortress, but before heading there, I found my hotel. I went in and told them that I have a reservation for today, and for May 17 as well. However, they told me that they do not have my name. Uh-oh. The good thing though was that they had space available for me, but not for tomorrow, which was ok. I needed a bed in Ollantaytambo for May 15 and 17, but not 16, when I would be heading to Machu Picchu.

Anyway, I spent a few hours in the hotel, reading my book. Then, around lunchtime, I went out, witnessed a parade, and headed to lunch. I had llama ravioli for lunch. After lunch, I tackled the Inca fortress that dominates the whole town.

This is a shot of the town parade. Not so good angle, I know.

I was already sunburnt, so I took my time in this one. There were plenty of stairs, and so I climbed them slowly. I also took advantage of the shades that the structures were providing me. And so I proceeded, and took tons of photos. More than 360 of them. Just for this one imposing fortress and temple. It is indeed amazing that the Inca has built immense structures like these on the edges of the mountains. Again, I passed by walkways where one wrong step can lead to my death.

This is the opening shot of the fortress, where everyone enters and sees the imposing terraces with the never-ending staircases.

This is the beginning of the staircase.

This is a shot from the top of the terraces.

There was a path that followed the side of the mountain, so I decided to go there first, before heading further up. This is what I found.

It turned out that it would lead only to some more terraces on the other side of the mountain, so I turned back, and continued the climb up the staircases. Then, I found the huge ceremonial slab of rock that is located on the top of the ruins.

So there, once reaching the top, I explored the whole place, taking plenty of pictures. I slowly descended, taking my time, clicking away, until the sun set and darkness covered the town. I then had dinner in a restaurant and went back to my hotel to pack, and prepare for the big day that awaits me after the next sunrise.

24 May 2008

Day 5: You Cannot Be Inca If You Have Acrophobia

I woke up to the sound of the river running next to my mountain lodge. I went to the common area, where I was greeted by Chalo, the Chilean owner of the whole complex. He himself was preparing breakfast for everybody. Apparently, I was the first one up, and he asked me where I was heading to.

So, after breakfast, I walked the 3 kilometers to the bus terminal of Urubamba. My original plan was to head to Chinchero, because I was not able to get there yesterday. However, Chalo told me that Chinchero is small, and so I should plan to visit something else after that. So, after some thought, I decided to board a different bus and head to Pisac instead. According to my original plan, I would be visiting this site the following Sunday. But it turned out that it was better this way.

I boarded the bus, and after an hour, I reached Pisac. I then walked to the main plaza, and immediately found the entrance to the trail that would lead to the Inca citadel on top of the mountain. I showed the guard my boleto turistico, and told me that one of the other guards would be accompanying me.

This is the view of the mountain that I would be climbing, of which, on the top, is located one of the most spectacular Inca ruins aside from Machu Picchu.

This is how the start of the trail, riddled with steps and other ascending climbs, looked like.

It turned out that having company in Pisac was a good thing, since the trail was very steep, and a little bit confusing. It took me 2 hours to reach the summit. I was huffing and puffing, taking plenty of rests along the way. I had plenty of occasions in which a wrong step could have resulted in my death.

This is a shot mid-way. One could see how high I already am, judging by the Inca terraces, but still, the Inca citadel was nowhere in sight.

I also had to follow a trail that hugs the mountain, like in this photo.

Then I come across this Inca doorway. Finally!

Upon passing this doorway, I stumbled upon a collection of ruins, on top of the mountain. This is a picture of a certain hallway, curved to follow the curvature of the mountain, upon which many rooms branch out of.

And when I went higher, I saw some more complexes of ruins, such as this one.

I have come to realize that the Inca were never acrophobic. If one were, then one could not inhabit the lofty citadels that they built on top of the Andean mountains. I asked my guide (who kept calling me Robert) why they built these citadels on the mountaintop and not on the valley below. He told me that the main reason was the flooding that occurs.

So, after two hours of ascending, and a sunburnt neck, I finally reached the summit. My goodness, I wonder how the Inca managed to carry the tons of stones that they used to build the majestic site. I also saw the Intihuatana, the polished stone where the Inca believed was the site where they tied the sun, so that the sun would not go away.

It was a magical experience, ascending Pisac. I never imagined that I would be trekking an Inca trail to a citadel located in between huge mountains, overlooking a valley considered sacred.

I finally descended, with the help of my guide of course, which actually saved me. I was idiotic not to bring bottled water. If he was not there with me, I may have dehydrated. I actually cramped a few times while descending the trail. Around 3:00 PM, I was back at the main square of Pisac, and I found a restaurant where I ate a late lunch or early dinner. I then caught a bus back to Urubamba, and headed back to my mountain lodge.

23 May 2008

Day 4: Golden Saltmines and Ancient Scientific Experiments

For this day, I checked out of my first hotel. I was feeling a little bit unwell, so before I headed to the bus station, I went to a local pharmacy, and requested some over-the-counter medicine for altitude sickness, in which I was experiencing a slight fever, nausea, and headache. I was given two kinds of tablets, and upon taking them, I felt better.

I then proceeded to the bus station that goes to Chinchero. If you check my previous scheduled itinerary, I should stop by Chinchero and visit the archaeological site there. However, it was raining, and so I put on my rain gear, and wrapped my backpack with its rain gear as well. And since the bus that I was on was heading to Urubamba, where my next hotel was, I decided to just go ahead and head straight to Urubamba.

Once in the bus terminal in Urubamba, I found the next mode of transportation that I was going to be needing, that is, the mototaxi. This is a motorcycle that has a passenger cabin attached to it. Similar to what we have in the Philippines as a tricycle, this is common in rural Peru I suppose. I took a mototaxi and asked him to take me to my hotel. It turned out that my hotel was hidden deep in the mountains. I had to take a dirt road in order to get there. It was the perfect getaway.

This is a picture of a Peruvian mototaxi. As you can see, the driver is up front, and the passengers are on the back, a maximum of two passengers. In the Philippines, the maximum number of passengers are four. A typical fare for the Peruvian mototaxi is 3 PEN, about a little more than 1 USD.

I normally do not post about my hotels, but this one is simply different. They are extremely personalized, and the owners are there mingling with the guests. I felt like a real house guest, not just another customer. The owners themselves prepared our breakfast, and they arranged for my excursion to the two sites that I visited that day.

This is a picture of my lodging. Very rustic, and it felt at one with nature.

So, the sites that I visited today were the Inca experimental site of Moray, and the Inca saltmines of Maras. Moray is a bizarre X-Files-type location. It looks like a landing site of a UFO. But apparently, it was the location of a scientific experiment by the Incas. They have carved these huge bowls in the earth, and then tested whether the plants would grow differently in the different levels, because apparently there are different climates for every level. They used flying steps to ascend and descend from the different levels.

This is an overview of the place. Very fascinating stuff.

See their magnificent use of the "flying steps", which are Inca stones protruding from the walls? This is how they climbed up and down the different terraces. One can see this in the other Inca sites that I visited as well.

The next site was one of the most amazing sites I have been to. This is the salt mines of the Incas, carved in the mountains. People may be familiar of the rice terraces that can be found in Southeast Asia, but this one is different. The view alone is magnificent. It is like liquid gold, shining on the mountain side. Walking through them was a magical feeling. Totally unreal.

Look at this photo and you'll understand what I am talking about.

I was then tired by the time I finished visiting these two sites. So, after the taxi that was arranged to take me to these sites returned me to my mountain lodge, I feel asleep. When I woke up, it was around 6:00 PM.

Now, the next problem was about dinner. My lodging was located deep in the mountain side, and it was already dark. The center of the town was 3 kilometers from my current location, and still, one needs to walk at least a kilometer to the main highway if one wants to find a mototaxi.

The good thing was that I was not the only one who was looking for food. A couple came out of their lodging, and was on the same situation as I was. So I met Peter, from Hungary, and Lea, his partner, from France. They were on their 5th month of traveling, Peru being their second to the last stop (Colombia is their last), before they head back to Brussels, Belgium, where they live. If you are curious as to how their itinerary looks like, then check their blog here.

So, a Hungarian, a French, and a Filipino headed out and decided to explore the Peruvian countryside. Good thing Peter had a flashlight, and so we walked the dirt roads of Urubamba. We then stumbled upon a few stores owned by the Inca, complete with the women with their beamed hats, and signature skirts.

In the end, we bought an avocado, onions, tomatoes, linguine (which was marketed as spaghetti, but what do Peruvians know about pasta?), hot peppers, bread, beer, bananas, and oregano.

We then went back to our lodgings, and then we used the kitchen. Peter made some killer guacamole, spread on top of the bread that he toasted beforehand, while Lea had whipped up tomato sauce for the pasta. So there, we did some home cooking for dinner. I ended up washing the dishes.

So that was my fourth day. Watch out for tomorrow when I totally underestimate the sun's power and I get badly sunburned while raiding an Inca temple.

22 May 2008

Day 3: Stones from the Navel of the World

Unlike the planned itinerary that I had posted automatically earlier, I made a slight change. Well, the Peruvians aren't like the Germans, schedules change. So I made some changes as well. Remember when I told you that I got ripped off? Well, the morning of the day before, I went to the office of this tour operator, and bought a city tour. It was supposed to start at 1:30 PM. They told me to be there 30 minutes before. It was in the morning, so I decided to walk around and wait until the time came.

But, as you have guessed, they were not there at the designated time. The office was there, except that it was closed. So, I waited for nothing. In the end, I decided to do the tour myself, by hiring a taxi to go to the far-flung Inca sites that you will be seeing in this entry.

Anyway, for today, I first headed to the Tourism office to buy boleto turistico, which is the tourist ticket that is valid for 16 different sites in and around Cuzco. I then visited the Museo de Arte Regional, which is a splendid collection of pre-Columbian art, and some colonial furrniture and paintings. The thing that sucks with this is that most museums do not allow you to take pictures of the exhibits, so all I could do is take pictures of the courtyard, since the museum is located in a colonial mansion, those with a courtyard in the middle, and balconies surrounding it.

This is a photo of the courtyard of this beautiful colonial museum.

After that, I hired a taxi for two hours, so that he would take me to the Inca ruins around Cuzco, namely, the four big ones; Saqsayhuaman, Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay. I paid 65 Soles (approximately 20 USD) for his time. I had a chat with him all the while he was driving me, learning about his family and children. I was surprised at the level of Spanish that I already know, enabling me to tell him that I have a younger sister, three years younger than me, and that my parents live in Europe. I also explained where the Philippines is, which is near Japan and China. He thought it was near the United States.

This is a picture of Saqsayhuaman, pronounced similar to "sexy woman", and it consists of zigzag stones as a fortress.

This is a detail of the pathways and the staircases that are found in Saqsayhuaman.

Qenqo on the other hand looks like a gathering of big boulders, but it is a collection of tunnels and walkways and streams, apparently an ancient Inca ceremonial site. Here is a shot.

Pukapukara is a different one, it seemed like a hunting lodge, guard rest, and stopping point for travelers in Inca times.

Here you can see the typical Inca window structure.

Finally, I went to Tambomachay, which is a collection of stone baths and water fountains that still function today.

So, I spent two-three hours in his Daewoo Tico, those small vehicles that are all over the city. It was interesting indeed, seeing the archaeological sites with the huge rocks, arranged beautifully. It is interesting to note that they built these huge sites without even using cement.

After that, I let go of my taxi, and then I went to Qorikancha. This is an Inca site right in the city of Cuzco, however, the Spaniards transformed it into a church. Thus, you can actually see a church with Inca stone foundations.

This is the view from the outside.

You can see on the picture of the courtyard here that there is this Inca window structure beyond the balconies, because the Spaniards kept the stone structure intact when they built the church above it.

So there, that was my day, my second night in Cuzco. The next day, I would be traveling to the Sacred Valley, where further mystical experiences await.