Monday, January 23, 2006

Peru Part I: What was seen, done, and eaten.

After a 14h bus ride, a $50 fine (which I found out later I should have been exempt of), and a wonderful conversation about playing cello in La Paz with Frida, I finally arrived in Cuzco! By night, it struck me as a much bigger city than I had imagined, but the narrow streets made of huge stones remanent from Inca times had a definite charm. My first two days were spent in Cuzco itself, walking around and visiting various museums with the boleto turistico, a single tourism ticket which has a validity of 1 or 10 days (and two prices, accordingly) which allows you to visit museums in Cuzco and a number of sites in the vicinity. Even though it was predictable, the amount of tourists that were everywhere was a definite shame – and this excessively touristic culture also made me feel like every local saw me as a walking pile of dollars (sort of the same was as the lion in Madagascar started seeing the Zebra as walking talking steak when he was hungry!) and tried to trick me into overpaying for anything I was looking to buy.

On Saturday, Lauren and I decided to be adventurous and – independently of the 200+ travel agencies in Cuzco – we took a local bus to Urubamba. The ride was stunning, the peruvian countryside being a palette of greens, browns and reds. Upon arrival, we realized that the appeal of Urubamba was in its surroundings, so after a brief walk through the market, we took a motorized push-push and went to a restaurant recommended by Lauren’s guidebook, called Tunupa. Turns out it was a mini hacienda with a delicious buffet, and around the corner was one end of the hike to the Salinas Inca salt extraction site! We ate to our heart’s content, played with the horses a little bit, and then walked for about 1h30 to Salinas and back. The salt extraction system was impressive, it is a series of small pools built on different levels, and the water flowing through them deposits salt on the edges, which can then be collected. These Incas, they really were brilliant! My ancestors, thank you very much! Haha. New Year’s was celebrated at a funky place called “Fallen Angel” with all sorts of yellow new years’ parapharnelia and an open air dance floor… but Sunday (and 2006) started off mediocre – got my camera stolen right after new year’s and headed straight for the nearest police station to make a declaration, and then at 8am when we showed up at the tourist agency for our tour of the Sacred Valley, we waited and waited and waited and no one arrived! Luckily, we managed to convince another bus/guide to take us with them, so after a rocky 8h things started looking up again. Our tour did Pisaq (huge archaeological site separated into seven neighborhoods of which we visited the religious one), Urubamba for lunch, Ollataytambo (village built on incaic ruins and an overlooking temple site with impressive engineering feats, not to mention a mountain carved out to look like a god was carrying storage areas on his back…) and C? with the oldest colonial church of the country, which was closed.

The next two days were devoted to Machu Picchu – we took a bus to Ollataytambo and a train from there to Aguas Calientes, the tourist town located at the foot of the mountain where Machu Picchu is. Had a delicious dinner at the restaurant Indio Feliz which serves french-inspired local cuisine, and got up at dawn to bus it up to Machu Picchu before the hoards of tourists woke up. The lush rainforest flora and the morning fog made for a very mystic environment, and seeing Machu Picchu with just a handful of other tourists was wonderful. Lauren and I hiked up to Wayna Picchu, which took a little under an hour, and although I was stunned to get to the top and hear Swiss German, the Swiss chocolate I had in my pocket fixed everything. It was quite steep and a little dangerous due to the wet rock, but worth it. Just before reaching the top, we had to go through a tiny, muddy cave, and I felt Angelina Jolie-esque, hehe. Hiked back and witnessed a llama mating dance, possibly one of the funniest things that happened on this trip! Finally we bussed it to Aguas Calientes for an 11am lunch, walked around for an hour, loitered in the market, and took the train back to Cuzco. Oh, and on the train? We were privvy to an Alpaca fashion show and a demonstration of a traditional character (I’ll leave it at that, but it was weird, that’s for sure!).

On the way back to La Paz from Cuzco, we took a bus to Puno, where we visited the artificial Urukos islands and spent the night before taking a bus to Copacabana for lunch (at a small place called La Leyenda which was scrumptuous) and finally arriving in La Paz at 5.30pm... What a trip! And as the pictures are all from Lauren’s camera (the disposable one I bought was painful to use and still isn’t finished!), a big thanks to her for being patient enough to email them to me one by one.

**Unable to post pictures right now, I will try again later this week (same goes for Part II) once blogspot decides to cooperate... Harumpf!


At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Shahnaz! What a cool trip you had! Peru is certainly a wonderful place.

At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Katy said...

That's a shame about your camera. I'd like to hear more about the alpaca fashion show...

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Shahnaz said...

If you email me, I can send you the few pictures I have of the Alpaca fashion show... Basically it was the train stewardess and steward who obviously collaborate with a posh Alpaca clothes store, who started modeling ponchos, sweaters, and all that jazz. Very random, quite entertaining, and fashionably worthy of mentioning! :p


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