The Long-Awaited Cusco and Machu Picchu Trip!
6 days and 453 photos later, I’m back from the long-awaited Cusco trip!
It was packed with beautiful sights, heights, ruins, animals, markets, food, and fun. Even though many of us were or became sick during the trip, we all enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
On Wednesday we flew into Cusco, took a bus to our hotel to drink coca tea (coca leaves increase oxygen in the blood and help prevent altitude sickness! and yes, these are the same coca leaves from which cocaine is made, but no, they are not a drug in their natural form), enjoy some quinoa soup, and rest for a while, then hopped back on the bus to tour some ruins! We visited Sacsayhuaman, Coricancha, Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay.
The next day we were originally supposed to head out of Cusco by bus again, but there was a huge strike in Cusco and its surroundings that prevented transportation out of the city, so we switched Thursday with Sunday, our scheduled free day. I went with a friend to the craft market that had been recommended to us, and bought a bunch of lovely gifts at good prices. Along the way, we saw the strikers marching. We returned to the hotel to rest, then had dinner at a great vegetarian restaurant, El Encuentro.
Friday, we visited Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and Aguana Cancha. We befriended some llamas and alpacas, learned how their wool is processed into yarn and woven into fabric, went on a lovely hike with fabulous views, ate at a buffet of local cuisine, climbed up the ruins of Ollantaytambo, and finally made our way to the train station for a ride to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
Saturday was Machu Picchu day! We headed up at 6am in the hope of seeing the sunrise. Alas, it was not to be, but we were still glad to get there before the hordes of tourists started to overwhelm the place. We took a bus up, walked around, took the obligatory photos, waited out some rain (which actually may have just been a cloud passing through us), explored the ruins, and then hiked up Huayna Picchu, the mountain behind Machu Picchu in all the photos! It was a steep but enjoyable hike, and I felt like I was on top of the world when we reached the peak. After making our way down in the early afternoon, we had lunch in Aguas Calientes and some (not I) went to the baños termales (hot baths/springs). Finally, we returned by train to Cusco.
Machu Picchu was absolutely stunning, magnificent, everything I had imagined and so much more. I gazed at it and tried to envision living there long ago when the city was in its heyday. I could imaging kids playing on the big open grassy spaces, people greeting each other, going about their lives. I have no idea what their lives were like, but it was fun to wonder. The mountains and valleys spread out below us in all directions, clouds hovering nearby, rivers flowing, and everything seemed simultaneously so ethereal yet so absolutely real. It is truly a wonder of the world.
The next day was our last, and we arose bright and early to pile into the bus and set off into the countryside. Around 10am we reached our first destination: a completely organic, sustainable farm cooperative in beautiful Yanaoca. They served us a second breakfast and showed us their gardens and animals. We also visited the Instituto para una Alternativa Agraria, where we learned about some innovative, sustainable, environmentally friendly farm equipment and solar ovens! After that, we went to lunch – another homegrown feast – nearby, which unfortunately we were still too full from second breakfast to fully appreciate, but we tried little bits of everything and it sure was delicious. Finally we headed up to la Casa Hogar de María de Nazareth, an orphanage and home for girls. The girls, ages 2 to 18, live and study there, either because they have had troubled home lives, their parents could not afford to keep them at home, or their families live too far from the nearest school. They danced and performed for us, and then we sang for them and danced with them. We then presented them with gifts from each of their “godparents” through ADENAR, the organization created by Lali, our program director, and Brenda, one of the patas. After listening to Britney Spears and Barbie Girl in Quechua with the girls, we said goodbye to them and to two of our own – Drew and San – who stayed for a week with the girls, and returned to Cusco. We flew home to Lima the next morning.
It was a lovely trip! It made some wonder why they chose gray urban Lima rather than beautiful Cusco for the semester, but it also gave some of us a greater appreciation for Lima vs. the tourist haven that is Cusco. I must admit, at times I felt uncomfortable riding around in a big tour bus through small rural towns and entering people’s homes. And in Cusco itself, people viewed us as just another gringo tourist, often spoke English to us even when we tried to speak Spanish, and it just generally felt like a vacation rather than a home. So as much as I enjoyed the scenery and the experience of this trip, and as much as I hope to go back someday to visit Cusco again, I was glad to return to Lima at the end.