Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cusco, Las Alturas, Y Más

I do realize it has been a long time since my last post, so there is a lot of ground to cover.

I have a new stamp in my passport. It's a ridiculous ink imprinting of Machu Picchu. I mean, I am thrilled to have a stamp saying that I've visited what people consider a marvel. I feel that the stamp's over-the-top nature kind of demeans the purpose of having it being taken seriously. I guess that's what I get for being a tourist.

The trip to Cusco was amazing, in all honesty. My stomach, as it has vowed to never let me be at peace for more than a moon cycle, piped up now and then, and I had some emotional outbursts due to stress and having to be with people during what I dub "me time," but it was a nice learning experience. The latter part. My digestive system doesn't like anything I give it. Meh, what can you do?

We went to Cusco while the kids had winter break. From Lima, that's a good 22 hours (the books say 20, but don't believe their lies) by bus. We would have gone by plane, but it only would have been cheaper if we were (all) Peruvian; the cheapest fare is reserved for Peruvians. If foreigners try to buy tickets with that tariff, they get charged a good $175 more, at minimum. While sitting on a bus isn't the most fun experience, it can have its advantages: beautiful scenery, some time to unwind. When we arrived, we realized we were much higher up in Cusco than Lima (duh). Lots of climbing! Our hostal wasn't just at the top of a hill leading to the central plaza, nor was there more climbing upon reaching that hill; the hostal itself had three distinct areas, and ours was the topmost, meaning two more floors' climbing. The hostal was really cool, in a cool place, and I'd like to think that needing to do that prepped me for the days ahead, so I really don't complain!

As is standard, I believe, the weather was much better than Lima. In winter, except for the rare day of glorious, glorious sun, we are enshrouded in gray and cold. While the nights in Cusco are definitely cold, the days were brilliantly sunny and warm. I LOVED this. So we stayed in Cusco for 2 days, being awesome and exploring places that didn't cost us money and enjoying the atmosphere. The air was crisp and clean, the people incredibly friendly and respectful, and there's a connectedness with nature in that kind of city that one just doesn't get in...well, Lima is my obvious comparison. Friday morning, we embarked on a Jungle Trekking excursion that was truly epic. Day 1: riding in a car up a mountain, then biking down, the valley, the jungled hills, the river, etc., as our backdrop. I might have screwed my bike up once...I like biking fast, and in order to avoid somebody who braked suddenly, I was sent into a ditch. I was lucky enough to jump clear, but the bike...not so much. It still functioned, so I was fine. The afternoon was spent in Santa María, a little pueblo in the valley. We hung out, and it was lovely. I have to say, I have gotten accustomed to it being cold in July (which goes against everything my body and mind has been taught for 22.5 years). To go to this valley and be very warm and sweaty due to heat and humidity was...well, odd, in what I've come to accept as winter. To still be this way a few hours after the sun went down was mind-boggling. I do not complain, though!

The next day was hiking. All day. 9 hours, more or less. It. Was. Awesome. LOVE hiking, and with the sights and the challenge, I had the time of my life. I would say more, but...well, it was just really cool. All kinds of scenery, annoying mosquitos, walked along the Inca Trail for a bit, ridiculous uphill, painful downhill, riverbeds, waterfalls, roads, jungle canopy paths...we covered everything. I then enjoyed an ice-cold shower at our hostel in Santa Teresa, another pueblo (a bit bigger) along the way. The dinner was lovely. Oh, that day at lunch we had the most amazing guacamole ever. Ever. No contest. Delicious. After a good night's sleep, we began a long walk on Day 3 to Aguas Calientes, the base for everybody who heads up to Machu Picchu. This walk was a lot less strenuous, but definitely full of beauty. Got to see banana trees, eat a banana from said trees, see the ruins of Machu Picchu perched atop their hill. Then we got to explore Aguas Calientes in the afternoon, which is a cool town, albeit completely touristy. At dinner that night, we discussed our plans for the next day: Machu Picchu. There are two options to head up to the site: foot or bus. The bridge that leads up to the city opens a little before 5 AM. Now, our tour began at 7 AM. Everybody wanted to get up there early for this reason: Wayna Picchu. 400 people are allowed to climb the mountain per day, and there are 3 time slots you can enter. We wanted the 10 AM slot, so that we could have our tour without worry (the other two are like 8 AM and noon, one being kinda late and the other in the middle of the tour). Thus we wanted to get there fairly early to a) be allowed onto the young mountain, and b) get the time slot we wanted. Taking the bus is a nice idea, because it takes just 30 minutes to ascend. However, to get on the first bus, one has to be in line at the bus station at about 3 AM. The buses don't leave til 5:15 or something. Yeah. The other option was walking, but the guide said that he took 2 hours to climb that. Edinson and I wanted to walk. We wanted to get there early. This meant waking at 4 AM to get to the bridge before other people.
The girls decided to ride the bus; it had been a grueling few days. Edinson and I, sadly, discovered that no matter how early you arrive for something, somebody will always be there before you. Or, you know, 100ish people. Yeah. When that bridge opened, and after we had shown our admission tickets, it was pretty much a mad dash to...get in line behind everybody else as they climbed up some 1200 stairs along a dirt winding path up to the summit. Of course, people will weave between each other, and there's a bit of separation that occurs maybe 2 minutes after the initial block. I was very courteous and didn't touch anybody, but people still said many nasty things. Then, without reason, some gigantic German man stopped and I crashed into him. He turned around and said, "If you push me, I will push you." SHOOT. "Okay, that's fair." "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" "I SAID THAT THAT'S FAIR. WITH HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE BEHIND YOU, DON'T STOP FOR NO REASON WITHOUT WARNING!" I didn't actually say that. I just walked ahead of him. I ended up making it to the summit in 40 minutes or so. It was glorious.
In all honesty, the nature surrounding that little city is far more impressive to me than the city itself. I am fascinated by the masonry, the technology that this culture had, but being there really didn't augment my awe for Machu Picchu. I was more amazed by the views we had, the sheer magnitude of it all, the verdant peaks in all directions, a valley and river below. The fact that breathing came easily and in the heights I was connected more to everything that surrounded me than I am in hard concrete clanking honking clamoring metropolis awed me more than the ruins we saw. Still worth every minute? Of course.

Then we went back. Now I'm here, busier than ever. The new volunteers are here in Lima! Still in their host family stay as they study the language and get to know Peru a little bit more. They'll be here in Ciudad on the 12th, so we're getting geared up for that! It's crazy to think about how time flies. Back when CapCorps told us when the volunteers would be coming, how they'd be coming to Ciudad the same weekend we returned from the International retreat, I thought of how long it would be til then. Lo and behold, it's upon us, and the rest of the year will snowball to a close, I'm sure. I remember thinking that the days kind of acted weird when I was here this time last year. Now they're just going by in the blink of an eye and I don't know what to do! Savor it, I guess, be in the moment and don't stress out...let go and let God, as they say.

At this point, my brain has failed, and I've been working on this for a month. It's high time to publish. I'm sorry for the brain fart, I'm sure that next blog post will be far stranger and at least superficially thoughtful. Cheers, all!

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