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Peru

Back to Civilization - Of Inca Brilliance and Tourist Hell

semi-overcast 73 °F

La Paz, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo - July 27 – August 2

We had a brief stay in La Paz, enough time to get some laundry done and round out the mountain of regalitos we had been acquiring along the way. At 7:30 a.m. we made our way to La Paz’s central bus station for the 12 hour ride to Cusco. The border crossing offered an unexpected 2 hour delay in the form of a huge line around the block on the Peruvian side facilitated by an official in the front padding his salary by moving his patrons to the front of the line.

We arrived in Cusco about 9:15 that evening, managing to find a supermarket open despite the independence day holiday celebrations that had closed most things up. Despite Cusco’s long history as the Incan capitol, it is relatively modern by Peruvian standards with stunning architecture and more magnificent churches than you can count. Serving as the gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, it is also the tourism capital of South America. Think West Yellowstone in mid-July. After seven weeks in Bolivia, the contrast was a bit overwhelming.

We spent 3 days in Cusco seeing the many incredible Incan ruins, museums and other sights, and confirmed details with our guide service, Cusco Native, for the 4 day trek to the Lares Valley following our visit to Machu Picchu.
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At about noon on the fourth day we caught a micro to Ollantaytambo and then the train down the Urubamba River to the town of Aguas Calientes which sits at the base of Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a nice little town sitting along the banks of the Urubamba River that reminded somewhat of Calistoga in a cloud forest, not very Peruvian and definitely not third world.

The next morning we arose at 4:30 to catch the 5:30 bus up to Machu Picchu. Arriving at Machu Picchu at 6:30 for the opening, the mountain was bathed in mist. The mist and the rising sun created a surreal effect right out of tourism promo. The light really couldn’t have been much more perfect. After spending two hours with a guide touring the ruins, we made the two hour climb to the top of Machu Picchu Montana, the high peak that overlooks the ancient city.

By 2:00 the crowds had magnified to nearly unbearable so we caught the bus back to town and then onto Ollantaytambo for two nights before leaving for the Lares Valley.
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Posted by White Buffalo 08:09 Archived in Peru Tagged machu picchu Comments (1)

Above the Sacred Valley - Walking with the Quechua

sunny 68 °F

Ollantaytambo – Lares Valley Trek Aug 2 – 6

We caught a taxi at 5:45 to make the 45 minute trip to the town of Calca where we met our guide Miguel, our cook Mario, and an assistant cook, whose name I cannot remember in part due to the fact that he only spoke Quechua but smiled just about all the time. We drove for about an hour and half up a steep narrow canyon to the small village of Quishuarani where we met Roberto our Caballero. _DSC6166-1.jpgThe 1 to 1 ratio of personnel to clients seemed a bit excessive but it is really standard operating procedure in this part of the world. After an hour or so of gathering up gear, we started our hike to the small village Cuncani about 10km over the mountain. Our previous weeks at high altitude in Bolivia served us well and the walking wasn’t too strenuous despite the pass at 14,600 ft elevation. The biggest challenge would prove to be not eating too much at lunch. The standard for trekking here is a 3 course hot meal for lunch every day. My guess is that the early trekkers were well healed folks out more for sightseeing rather than hiking and it created a tradition that could just as well be forgotten.
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Descending from the pass that afternoon we saw our only Andean Condor of the trek soaring at high altitude. We rolled into camp at about 3:30 and the arrival of gringos immediately brought out 4 or 5 girls age 16 to 18 with bundles of goods to sell. First we bought a couple of beers and soon it was a scarf to beautiful and cheap to pass up and within half an hour or so managed to buy at least something from everyone. Looking at the bare feet and sandals that are standard issue for all both young and old despite the freezing temperatures at night we were happy to help anyway that we could.
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The next morning we headed off to the village of Huacahuasi. My first hint that our guide wasn’t completely with the program came as we left camp walking entirely the wrong direction from the route that we had planned. When I asked him about it he told me that that route was much too difficult. Since I had picked the route mostly through research on the internet, who was I to argue? We discovered later that he just didn’t want to take the more difficult route despite the fact that it was not overly demanding. Besides our crummy guide, the rest of the crew was super nice and really bent over backwards to make the trip as enjoyable as possible. We passed several small villages along the way, giving out pencils, candies and small pins as regalitos for the many children that we passed along the way.
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A notable difference between this region of Peru and most of what we saw in Bolivia was far less garbage. This may also have been due to the lack of road access for goods from the outside. These are all subsistence farmers and herders. They make most of their own clothes and apart from bare essentials rely on very little from the outside.
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We camped that night above Huacahuasi instead of Lake Ispaycocha as we had planned. In the morning, it took us about 1.5 hours to reach the pass at 15,000 feet. We then descended past Lake Auraycocha for lunch at Lake Yuraccocha, two beautiful high alpine lakes both filled with large trout. We camped that night at a very forgettable campsite at Pucara not more than an hour from our final destination. I realized on this trip and others that there is tendency among guides to keep things simple, and if you want to really get off the beaten path you’ll like need to remind them of your intent and plans at every turn along the way. Despite our disappointment at the abbreviated route, the country was spectacular and the people were very friendly and curious about the aliens in their midst.
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Posted by White Buffalo 20:50 Archived in Peru Tagged valley lares Comments (1)

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