Friday, April 30, 2010

Machu Picchu

If the Lincoln, Nebraska chapter of the Burt Reynolds fan club is going to go one place in South America, it's Machu Picchu. Despite this undeniable fact, I still decided to go.

I went with the same group that attended Antony's birthday party. Matthew, Sarah, Paria, Rhiannon and I decided that we didn't need to pay a guide to show us the way; We were gonna do it old school style.

Initially we all planned to buy our Machu Picchu tickets in Cusco the day before leaving. I missed the memo that the plan had changed, so I was the only one with a ticket when we left. The others were hoping to buy theirs when we got to Aguas Calientes, the town just below Machu Picchu.

We left early the next morning on a 5-6 hour bus to Santa Teresa, over a treacherous mountain pass. After that, we caught a car that was supposed to take us to Santa Maria. I never knew a station wagon could be so rugged. We drove up and down some steep and rough terrain, as well as through a pretty deep and equally sketchy river:

The car could not take us all the way to Santa Maria; It had to stop short because a landslide had covered a large portion of the road:

When we got to this spot, there were a few dozen people waiting around on each side, as well as a crew working to clear the landslide. One hero decided he was going to walk across to the other side, and when we saw that he didn't die, everyone else followed suit... We made it across safely.

After this, we took a van the rest of the way to Santa Maria, and then beyond toward Aguas Calientes. The van took us as far as a cable car, where we had to cross the roaring river to continue (This photo really doesn't do it justice):

The sun was setting as we got to the other side of the river, where we began the hike the rest of the way to Aguas Calientes. The first part of the path was on a jungle-covered mountainside adjacent to the river.

Matthew & Sarah on the jungle path:

A jungle plant in the fading light of dusk:

We walked for a few hours on this path in the dark, and eventually saw signs of civilization in the distance (i.e. lights). We got off the mountain thinking we were really close, but the lights we approached were not Aguas Calientes but a hydro-electric plant - we still had a few more hours to go!

After the hydro-electric plant we walked along railroad tracks the rest of the way. After a few minutes it started to rain. At many points, there were little streams or larger rivers flowing down the mountain into the big river. At these places, we had to cross bringes, during which we would have to walk on the railroad ties, with flowing water between/beneath them:

One bridge was particularly long, and invoked terror in one member of our group who will remain nameless. It took a few minutes to cross, with certain death looming between each step:

Nobody fell. We had a few slips and trips along the way, but luckily no injuries.

We made it to Aguas Calientes around 11 p.m. Unfortunately, the ticket office was closed and the others could not get tickets for the next day. So I was going to Machu Picchu alone. Initially, I was pretty pissed off. We found a hotel and I laid my head down for about 3 hours of sleep.

I popped up seconds before my alarm went off. I was energized and my attitude had completely changed. I was actually happy to be experiencing Machu Picchu alone. It allowed me to go my own pace and do whatever I wanted the whole day. I started the walk toward the mystical ruins in the dark, with the mighty river raging next to me.

I crossed the river and began the ascent of Machu Picchu. This consists of steep stone staircases through the jungle, which cross the path of a road that's ruled by buses later in the day.

A shot of the road to Machu Picchu (The path cuts up the middle):

I made it up to the entrance at about 5:15, and it doesn't open until 6. The wait wasn't long though, and when it did open, I was one of the first 20 people in.

The first hour or so in Machu Picchu, I was prettymuch inside a cloud. Some people complained about this, but I thought it was one of the coolest parts!

After a few hours, the weather started to clear up, and eventually the sun came out. It was amazing to see all of the details of the place come to life.

My favorite thing about Machu Picchu is that they incorporated natural rocks into many of their built structures:

And of course I had to get the classic Machu Picchu shot; the picture that every fat-ass tourist that's ever visited has taken. (Do you see the face in the mountains behind the city? (left to right: chin, lips, nose and forehead)):

It might help if it's flipped:

(If you don't see it now, you don't deserve to.)

The reason I point out the face is to tell you that I discovered what I believe to be scientific proof that the Inca people smoked marijuana:

Yep, he's french inhaling!

...The first 200 visitors each day get to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that forms the nose of the face). It's a steep climb, and the view of the surrounding mountains from the top is spectacular!

I didn't realize how far from the ruins Wayna Picchu is; They look tiny from the top:

I could also see the road and the river we had walked along the night before, as well as a massive landslide (can you spot the backhoe at the bottom left?):

How about now?:

I took an alternative route around the other side of Wayna Picchu to get down. It was beautiful and I only saw one other person the whole way back, which was nice. I had to climb down some steep staircases and wicked ladders:

At around 3, I was exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel. There's a buffet just outside the entrance to Machu Picchu. "Maybe I'll eat lunch there after viewing the ruins," I thought... until I saw that the buffet cost 95 soles. I laughed and headed back down to Aguas Calientes. I'm ashamed to admit that I took the bus down, which costs 20 soles. I think I deserved it though after the limited sleep and long days I had experienced prior.

I had to wait around Aguas Calientes an extra day for the rest of the group to see the ruins. Other than Machu Picchu and the beautiful surroundings, Aguas Calientes sucked. Everything was really expensive, it was packed with tourists (obviously) and it's the only place I've been to in Peru so far that charges tax in restaurants. I was ready to get out of there asap.

We returned to Cusco the same way we came. The walk back was much better, because it was daytime and not raining. It was cool to see all of the terrain we had walked by days before but hadn't seen really:

Remember the long, slippery dangerous bridge?! Well it turns out there was a walkway on the side of it that we hadn't seen in the dark, so it was really not treacherous at all! (The bridge with the walkway on the left):

And back across the cable car we went. View from the middle:

Once we got back to Santa Maria, it was all van from there to Cusco. And we made it home alive!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cusco: Other Random Stuff

I woke up early one day to see the sunset. It was cloudy, but still pretty cool:

...Economics below the equator are crazy. I could bust out some pie charts and talk about supply and demand, but all you really need to know is this: A jar of peanut butter costs more than an hour-long massage. That's without a happy ending; that would cost like 3 jars of peanut butter. Not like I know, that's just what I heard from the guy who sold me pot . . . holders.

...I've been trying to improve my diet lately, and one of the best ways to do so is eating fresh fruits and vegetables from the market...

One night, I was kind of bored. So I decided to produce (get it?!) some art...



I miss hoopin:

...I'll spare you the fruity porn scene.

Oh, I forgot to introduce you guys to Bruno, the dog of my Peruvian uncle Roberto who is also my neighbor. Every time I walk to or from my house, I see Bruno lounging on the sidewalk...

One Sunday, I went with Elias and two of his brothers to play some football. After making a fool of myself doing that, we went to a local picanteria to eat some food and drink some chicha, the traditional fermented corn drink of the Incas.

According to Elias, drinking chica makes you big and strong, which is why the Incas were all over two meters tall. So it's kind of like milk; milk that gets you fucked up!

Me toasting some chicha with two of Elias's brothers, Roberto & Umberto, and an awesome dude with a cowboy hat (I couldn't understand a word he said):

...Antony turned 18 on April 14th. In Peru, a man's 18th birthday is a big deal. Antony asked me if we could use my room for the party. I said sure. As if it wasn't already cool enough before, my room was transformed into a seriously funky party zone. There was a strobe light. And a disco ball. That's right.

The party was awesome. My friends Sarah and Matthew from the U.S. and Paria and Rhiannon from Australia came. The gringos were done partying by about 1:00 a.m. The Peruvians welcomed the rising sun. Even little Florangela was tearing up the dance floor. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of that, but here's one of her eating some pudding to make up for it:

My room still kind of smells like beer.

Cusco: Viewin' Ruins

My Peruvian brother Antony is studying to become a tour guide, along with studying English and working, too. He offered to be my guide for some of the sites around the city.

I'm lucky to have my own guide, as opposed to using an agency. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not go visit some ruins with the Lincoln, Nebraska chapter of the Burt Reynolds fan club.

We went to various ruins around Cusco, plus to some museums. My favorite of the trips was to Moray. We rented mountain bikes and rode about ten miles up to the ruins. The bike ride and the ruins were beautiful.

Scenery during the ride:


Antony explained to me that Moray's form represents the physical body of Pachamama, the Incan equivalent of Mother Earth (except they respected and revered her). We laid down and took a nap in Pachamama's womb, and were reborn as brothers of the earth. When we laid our heads down, there were a bunch of tourists in the ruins talking and laughing. When we arose, we were alone.

(Those are her boobs at the top left!)

Despite Moray's elevation, the Incans were able to grow crops here that normally would only grow thousands of feet lower. Using the terraces, they were able to trap heat and mimic growing conditions of lower altitudes.

Agricultural terraces:

The ride down from Moray was a blast:

...I know I look like a real extreme-sports maven in this shot. I should have had him take a picture of me on a rougher patch of the trail.

Another of my favorite trips was to Ollatatambo. Here, Antony reminded me that we have the ability to obtain energy from rocks and the earth. Ollatatambo has rocks the size of cars on a mountainside, that were believed to have originated accross a valley, on another mountain.

So the Incans removed the rocks from the mountainside, brought them down the mountain, got them across the river (!), and up the other mountain and in place. Wow. I honestly can't wrap my head around how they did some of this.

Huge, magically-transported rock:

View from the top of Ollatatambo:

Some other ruins we also visited:




Puca Pucara:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cusco: Listen to the Music

Elias, my Peruvian dad, makes and sells musical instruments for a living. He also plays the instruments. He also rents rooms out to gringos. His expertise is traditional Inca instruments. Namely charangos (small ten-stringed guitars), quenas (flutes), and pan pipes.



Pan Pipes:

Elias playing the charango and pan pipes at the same time:

Elias's most time-consuming and impressive work can be seen in the process of making a charango. It begins with a block of wood like this one:

Elias then shapes the wood until it looks like this:

...hollows out the middle with a hammer and chisel:

...sands it:

...paints or burns it:

(I wish I would have been this productive with my wood-burning kit back in the day.)

...lacquers it:

(I didn't have a gas mask!)

...strings it:

...& there you have it. A finished charango:

Elias then takes to the streets of Cusco to sell his work. Tourists are his main customers, and this year has been a tough one for sales due to weather issues as well as an abundance of tight-wads. His instruments are a hell of a bargain, though.

Prices for Elias's hand-made instruments:
Charango: 320-450 soles (depending whether it's carved, painted, etc.)
Quena: 120 soles
Pan pipes: 60-70 soles

1 U.S. dollar = 2.89 soles... I'll let you do the math.

If you are interested in purchasing an instrument, contact me at (asap; I'm leaving Cusco soon!)

Note: shipping may be upwards of 100 soles; I'll look into it.

Another Note: Elias thinks I'm pretty cool so I can probably get you a discount.