THE PERU TRIP
This is a general-catch-all letter to everyone about my 2001 trip to Peru. Hope that this can give you a good idea what I experienced. I know that is hard to visualize if you haven’t been there, but it is even harder to capture the true essence of it all. The real problem lies in the fact that I will always come back to this trip and be able to pick out new things that I wasn’t aware of at the time. Different parts of the trip will mean more than others at certain times…
I met with the Outdoor Adventure Group at 10am on May 17th, 2001. This group is run by the UNCG Recreation Center and is for students who are into athletic-outdoor experiences. They offer not only backpacking, but Mountain Biking, Kayaking, Skiing and many other things. This particular trip was one of their few huge and expensive excursions. I couldn’t afford it, but what the hell! I have wanted to go to Peru since I was nine and this was my chance, so I took it.
So I bid good-bye to Jason, who declined going because he needed to “hold down the fort,” and headed on my way.
The airplane ride was long, but good. I love flying, but it was a little weird since I hadn’t flown since 1992. (If you remember my trip in 1995 was by Greyhound bus and my little expeditions to Niagara Falls, Des Moines, New York and Greensboro were all by car.) So the 15 of us who signed up to go landed in Lima at 11:30 at night. Much to our surprise and disappointment we found ALL of our luggage missing. How do you misplace something like 15 huge duffel bags filled with backpacks and camping equipment? It is like forgetting a heard of elephants! Seriously, we guessed that since the flight was crowded they bumped our luggage to a later flight.
We spent one night in a Lima hostel and were back up to catch our flight to Cuzco by 5am. With only our carry-on bags in tow we flew the 1½ hours to the wonderful city of Cuzco. There we checked into our hostel and were ready to explore. I walked around with Margo, Kay and Dorothy that day. We ate at a few small cafes and did lots of shopping—actually Margo did most of the shopping and I just looked.
On Saturday May 19th we took our day hike. A bus drove us up the extremely steep mountainside and we were dropped off at the outskirts of Cuzco. A guide took us back down to Cuzco on foot, showing us the ruins along the way. We saw: Tambomacha: a spring and sacred bath for the Incas, Pukapkara—an ancient granary and
Q’enqo–a temple of the sun (and then a near by temple of the moon) Saqsayhumen— an ancient fort that is also used for astronomical predictions. That evening my foot, which I sprained a week and a half before I left, was killing me. I also had a headache and was very tired, but I was still having fun.
Sunday the 20th all of loaded onto another bus and went to the Pisaq market. A half an hour bus ride or so out of the Cuzco valley and into the sacred valley of the Incas took us to a tiny village where the people sell their crafts. This market is the best place to bargain and get great deals. I bought most of my souvenirs there. I took a break from shopping to take the bus up to the Pisaq ruins.
The ruins are positioned high up on top of a mountain. It isn’t a city like Machu Picchu, but it does cover more distance than Machu Picchu. The 1hr and 40 min hike was challenging. There were many stairs, tunnels and narrow paths with sheer drop offs all the way. We also got a chance to see the cliffs where the Pre-Inca natives placed their mummies and to see the many terraces they built for farming.
Tuesday everyone else left for Ollenteytombo, everyone but Margo and I. I opted to take the two-day hike instead of the four-day because of my sore foot. Margo agreed to keep me company. We saw everyone off and then went back to the hostel to chill.
So Tuesday and Wednesday we hung out together shopped and relaxed. Margo had met and made friends with a cute guitar player while we were in Cuzco. Edgar plays guitar in band that played at a cool pizzeria that we ate at one night…He seems nice enough, but since he only speaks Spanish and my Spanish is very limited it made it difficult for me to talk to him much.
I found that only a few people in Peru spoke English. The majority of people spoke Spanish, but some even spoke the ancient Inca language, quetchua. This made communication very difficult. I picked up a few key words, but for most of the time I was in the dark. Mostly I got use to not understanding anything, but I did learn to pay attention to body language, hand motions and context in order to order dinner and buy things at the stores.
Anyway, Edgar invited Margo and I out to go dancing one night at the Kamikaze club, which was a lot of fun. I got a chance to dance to rock, salsa and disco in a genuine Peruvian club! We also visited some museums. Though there were some Inca and Pre-Inca artifacts a lot of it was Spanish colonial painting. This got me to thinking about colonialism and Catholicism…but that is an essay unto itself.
Thursday Margo and I took a tour bus to Ollenteytombo and other ruins as well. I took tons of pictures and learned a lot more about the history of Peru…We also had a good work out going up and down a thousand more stairs…
Friday we got up early and took the Peru Rail Train to kilometer 104, where we were dropped off. From there our guide/porter led us up to the third campsite for our group. We were told it takes 4 hours or so to walk, but since we were in no hurry we did it in 5 hours. Along the way we saw some amazing scenery, including mountains, waterfalls and subtropical jungle and more ruins. We got to the camp and waited at about 4pm. Soon the rest of our group arrived. They told us how hard the past few days had been. The all day nearly vertical ascent up to dead woman pass was something I was glad I missed!
Saturday we awoke at 3am to pull up camp and head out. We walked in the dark up to Intipata or the sun gate. The morning hike wasn’t too bad, except for the set of stairs that were long and steep. Most people used their hands to balance them, but I sprinted! At the sun gate we were to watch the sunrise, but it got crowded quickly, so we moved on down the hill to Machu Picchu itself. We waited at the top of the hill at the edge of the city as the sun came up over the mountains…It was absolutely beautiful. Later, we checked in at the checkpoint and then received a guided tour of the ancient city.
Machu Picchu was built not too long before the Spanish came (1532). It contained a sundial, sun temple, moon temple, houses and terraces for crops. Very impressive. More impressive was the fact that it had been so well hidden that the Spanish never found it. It wasn’t found until 1911. Ironically Machu Picchu is now an easy place to get to really. Instead of hiking one can take the train all the way to Aguas Calientes and then take the bus up the side of the mountain to the ancient city. There is even a restaurant and hotel at the top….
Anyway, after our tour we went down into Aguas Calientes and checked into our hostel. That night I relaxed in the hot springs that they town is famous for. The next day I went back to the Machu Picchu.
We left for Cuzco on Monday morning. That day I didn’t feel well, so I slept most of the day. Tuesday morning we flew from Cuzco to Lima to explore that city. Lima is quite different from Cuzco. Cuzco is filled with cobblestone narrow and often steep streets, while Lima is more modern. Lima is Peru’s capital and is quite large (8 million people) and full of a lot more crime and poverty.
Driving in both cities is insane. In Cuzco (a city of 1 million) there are a grand total of like three stoplights and five stop signs. All the taxis and other cars just beep and hope that the other traffic (as will as pedestrians) will stop in time or get out of the way. Lima has a few more lights, but is equally crazy. People pull out in front of each other and don’t bother to use turn signals most of the time. There doesn’t seem to be too many accidents though…The cars in Peru are primarily Honda, Nissan, Toyota and even Daewoo. In Lima in there is an abundance of Volkswagen Beetles left over from the 60s, which is a strange sight….
In Lima you can find McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. Though you can’t find those in Cuzco, you can find a lot of USA Pop culture around. There is an odd mix of native and Spanish culture that embraces world culture as well. That is the same for religion as well. You can see Catholic symbolism mixed with Inca everywhere. It is a unique atmosphere…
Peru is also a unique experience because it is a third world or developing country. The lack of heaters and other commodities in most places reminded me of this constantly. At night it could get down in the 30s and all we had were walls, a roof and our blankets to keep us warm. Then there was the bathroom situation. The lack of toilet paper, even in nice museums and other public places was an eye opener. We had to carry our own paper with us at all time and pray that the toilet was not clogged and had a seat for once…It really makes you appreciate the simple things in life….
During our three days in Lima we visited several museums, like the museum of Gold, which was awesome. Late on Thursday night we left for the airport and left Peru. We arrived in Houston at 6:15am and then Greensboro at 11am. I rode with the group to Outdoor Adventures and called Jason to pick me up.
It felt good to be home, but it took a few days to get re-adjusted to everyday life again…I only had a few days though. I got home on Friday and was back to work and school by Monday.