Before coming to Argentina, I never dreamed that I’d be able to travel to (the tip of) Patagonia, Chile, and PERU. Even now, I still can’t believe I was at Machu Picchu! I’ve been looking at my pictures non-stop, unable to actually believe it. Is this real life?
Entering Peru was definitely a culture shock, after having lived in both the US and Argentina (at least, for a couple of months). During our taxi ride from the airport, I was surprised by how much I related Peru with India. The amazing scenery, dominating presence of culture, and llamas walking around in the center plazas may have contributed to that sentiment. Although I can’t quite explain it, the Peruvian culture was so alive in every corner of the city. As much as I love the Andes, the mountains looming in the background in Cuzco were breathtaking.
But then of course, there was the element of tourism. There were SO MANY tourists! Since we were at the peak of tourist season (good weather), we had numerous vendors approach us (there was one day where I was approached in English, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin all consecutively), asking if we needed massage or other tourist services. It was overwhelming!
One thing about Mendoza is that the province generally attracts an older crowd of tourists who mostly come for the wine and stay for a couple of days. But in Peru, the common “young tourist” was a European backpacker either traveling or volunteering (in a jungle, teaching English, etc) with no grasp of Spanish. Pretty interesting. Then of course, there were hordes of tourists, both young and old, from all over the world, to go see Machu Picchu. Due to the tourism, there was a strong presence of commercialism. The Inca legends and history were all hyped up, and exaggerated. The quaint architecture that contained elements of the Incas and colonialism, all housed modern Starbucks, KFC’s, and other fast food chains. Speaking of food: Peruvian food is amazing! We didn’t try alpaca, llama, or guinea pig, but we had delicious chica and other foods. Note: do not eat the Chinese food, at all costs!
Regardless, exploring the different parts of the city was extremely enjoyable. Although during the first few days, my friend and I walked quite slowly due to the altitude. We were out of breath fairly quickly. (Turns out we were lucky, since some other lodgers at our hostel were violently throwing up, yikes). Remember the three rules to prevent altitude sickness: drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, and sleep before you’re tired!
After a few days in Cuzco, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, so we could catch a train to Aguas Calientes. Interestingly enough, the train cars were separated for locals and foreigners (and a heavy fine for foreigners who ended up on the locals car). The view of the landscape on the train was absolutely stunning. They served us banana chips (delicious) and corn covered in chocolate (even more delicious).
Of course, the minute we got to Aguas Calientes, we were met with a million faces asking us if we needed hostel, tourist, and bus services. It was too much. We asked the third lady we encountered for the price and she seemed pretty reasonable. She took us to a dingy “hostel” with a sketchy room and a tiny bathroom with only cold water, and one miniscule bar of soap. We were too tired and wary to protest or muster the energy to find another hostel. But somehow, after chowing down on bread and jam (living the backpacker’s life!), we walked around the town (mostly consisted of Inca figures hyped up), then settled on a pizza place for dinner. (note: the price seemed cheap, but they hid the tax fee, sigh) Since there wasn’t much to do, we went to bed super early so we could get up at 4am. Which…..we miraculously did.
There were buses picking up (lazy ) people from their hotels to Machu Picchu. We chose to walk all the way to the top. The walk to the entrance itself was mystical. The mountains loomed over us, tall and menacing in the dark. The river seemed to pound against the rocks, which were in weird shapes and sizes. Since we didn’t have a flashlight (mistake), we tip-toed carefully against the bridge and trail, slightly scared but ridiculously excited. Then…..we reached the entrance point. Long story short: there was a problem with my ticket. I ran back to the village, where thankfully, they had tickets left for that day. I paid, ran back, and THEN we started our trek uphill to Machu Picchu at last.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t THAT out of breath during the climb. Each step we took, we were rewarded with a view that grew more and more gorgeous and unearthly. To put it crudely, it’s incredible how the Incas even found the mountains, had the adrenaline to climb up, decide on a location, then BUILD AN ENTIRE CITY up there. It was also impossible to take a bad picture.
Once at the top, it was ridiculously hard to register that we were there. The image in front of me was unreal. Everything was majestic and built to perfection. The weather was perfect, too. Maybe a little too perfect, since we both got sunburned. -_- There were people from all over the world, with tours being given in numerous languages. There were alpacas up there, beautiful foliage, and although I was scared for my life, I couldn’t help but look down every few seconds; to understand the fact that I actually walked all the way up to the site and survived (in fact, as we were walking down, there were these two girls who were excitedly shouting, “We conquered the lost city!” a little too much, haha). Interesting fact: you’re not allowed to take jumping pictures on Machu Picchu. The guard yelled at me. Then, before we knew it, the day was nearing 5pm, and the park was about to close. The trek downhill took 2 hours. We were exhausted, but unbelievably happy.
After Machu Picchu, we took a bus to Puno, to go see Lago Titicaca. Fun fact about the lake: if you turn a map of the lake upside down, you can see a puma hunting a rabbit. The puma is Peru, and the rabbit is Bolivia. Titi means great (I think), and caca means rock, although we’re more familiar with the slang meaning. Obviously the latter refers to Bolivia. Oh, international rivalries. And due to the black market, no one is permitted to travel to Peru or Bolivia via the lake.
When we got to Puno, we were dropped off at 4am (we arrived much earlier than they said we would!) at a very silent terminal. We were pretty aloof, so we followed a woman who was trying to sell us a tour at her agency. When it seemed like we were about to walk off (we were just really, really tired), she lowered the price, so that we ended up paying $20 for a day’s tour. Unintentional bartering strategy, yay!
We boarded a boat that took us to the Floating Islands. The islands are constructed from a reed that grows at the bottom of the lake. Each island is the home of a family, and it felt slightly awkward intruding upon their private space, yet….it was clear tourism was their main source of revenue. They showed us how they live, and took us for a ride on their reed boat.
Then we went to Taquila Island, which was quaint and beautiful. We were served lunch and given time to walk around the island, and the island gave off a Mediterranean vibe, with the clear and amazingly blue water. The lake was stunning, and the tranquility made everything enjoyable. I had no idea how big and beautiful the lake was. Next time I’m in the area, I’d like to cross over to Bolivia…..algun dia!
Overall I am extremely happy that I had the chance to go to Peru. It is a country that is not only home to Machu Picchu, but other amazing sites that I unfortunately did not have the time to explore. I’m going to miss the majestic mountains, the friendliness of the people (everyone addresses you as ‘amigo’ or ‘amiga’) and the bartering (best strategy is to feign interest, look disinterested, and then walk away, haha)! I hope I can return again.
captions: Plaza de Armas/Cuzco/Cuzco with Cristo Blanco in the background/Cuzco 1-2/streets/delicious chicha/San Pedro market/successful bartering!/rickshaw/Ollantaytambo 1-2/train/view from train/soccer field/center/Aguas Calientes/more markets/bridge entrance/Machu Picchu/view from climb up 1-2/incredible view 1-4/friendly alpaca!/amazing views (city in the shape of a condor) 1-8)