The “Cheap Way” to Machupicchu part 3

 

“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” 

Anthony Bourdain

0518171029a.jpg

 

 ….

Leaving Cusco airport, we come to the conclusion that there’s no need to rent a car in Peru.  The first reason being that there is public transportation everywhere, so there’s no real need for one. The majority of vehicles you see are taxis, buses, or collectivos. The second reason is a better one, and that is…… the traffic is crazy! Really crazy!…with seemingly no real rules of the road. New York taxi drivers have nothing on these guys. On our way out of town, our driver stops to get gas, and then we are on our way to Ollantaytambo. We pass through Poroy and some of the most beautiful farm land I’ve ever seen. It was still very early, but farmers were already out and working in their fields. In the distance, snow capped peaks gave a hint of what was to come.

0518171039.jpg

Along the way we passed under the Sky Lodge hotel. It is a collection of small glass enclosures high up on a mountainside. If you happen to get a room at this amazing hotel, the only way to get to your room is to climb several hundred feet straight up a rock wall. Needless to say, not everyone will want to stay there, especially if you are afraid of heights.

skylodge-adventure-suites-natura-vive-1.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scale

Shortly after passing the Sky Lodge,  the road changed from smooth asphalt to cobblestone,  and that’s when we realized we’ve made it to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a town and an Incan archaeological site in southern Peru, approximately 45 miles by road northwest of Cusco. With a population of around 700, it sits at an altitude of 9,160 ft above sea level in the province of Urubamba. At the time of the Incan Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who conquered this region, and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, it served as a stronghold for the leader of the Inca resistance. Located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction because of its Incan ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.

Although hiking the Inca Trail would have been nice, we were taking a much cheaper, but no less spectacular route to Aguas Calientes, and Machupicchu.

0512171451

(The Plaza De Armas, near the center of town, with the massive fortress ruins looming on the hillside to the right)

Our driver parked his car and lead us to the Kamma Guest house, and what would be our favorite place to stay of the whole trip. By this point we were exhausted, having been awake for 27 hours and traveled 3,400 miles. Excited as we were to finally be in Peru, we decided to get a little nap in before further exploration of this ancient town.

Two hours later, we are awake, and we need food! It’s a little after 1 pm, so we stroll down to the center of town, known as the Plaza de Armas. On the corner there is a small restaurant named Papas. We head on inside and up the stairs to the dining area. The owner/waiter greets us and we scan over the menu. We both settled on a chicken sandwich, which also came with a soup and drink for 15 soles, about $5 US.
I was not expecting to receive that much food for so little money. This meal would have easily cost 2 to 3 times as much at home.
And the food itself? Absolutely amazing!  The chicken sandwich consisted of a breast on toasted bread, with cheese and some kind of lettuce.  The soup was like chicken noodle soup but better. After one taste, I didn’t care what was in it. I finished it off like i was starving.

0512171838

0512171813a0512171801

After our meal, we headed down to the market near the entrance to the fortress ruins. We wander through, looking at booth after booth of brightly colored souvenirs, each one selling basically identical items. This time through we refrained from purchasing any, as we didn’t want to have to carry them all along our trip.
On a side note, if you are a tourist, when you step out into public here, someone is going to try to sell you something. Street vendors will spot you a mile away. Be prepared to say “No Gracias”… a lot!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering through the town, up and down the cobblestone streets, and sitting in the plaza watching the locals go about their business. We watched the taxis and “motos” circling the square, looking for their next fare. Some are uniquely decorated and rather comical looking to attract riders.

0517171729-1.jpg

When sunset came around 5:30 pm, we picked up some snacks and the Peruvian version of Ramen noodles, which has real chicken pieces and veggies. We chose these rather than eating out to stick to our super small budget. These were so much better than what we have at home!

0512171338

With the evening came cooler temperatures, and the realization that our room had no heat or ac. Not that we needed it. An alpaca wool blanket spread out on the bed is more than enough to keep you warm.
Laying in bed that night, with the door to our very small balcony open, we could listen to water flowing down a channel that is cut into the floor of the alleyway just below our room. It took us almost no time at all to fall asleep, and we slept very well. After the super long day we had getting there, we deserved it. And as the coming days proved, we would need it.

 0517171538

Click here for a video of the journey up to this point!

To be continued…

Karma

Karma…. The sum of a persons actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.

I may be skipping ahead a little in our story, but I thought I’d share this bit of it anyway.

This is a story about Karma. Whether you believe in Karma or not, I do, and saw firsthand in Peru how it can work.

After flying into Lima and then to Cusco, we took a taxi to a little town about 2 hours away called Ollantaytambo. This little town of only 700 people ended up being our favorite place to stay on our whole trip. We stayed here two different times during our trip..a total of 4 days. On the morning of the third day there we needed to get a ride to another town called Santa Teresa, and from there we would hike to Machupicchu. This was not as easy as we thought it might be, since Santa Teresa was a 4 hour drive away. In my best broken Spanish, I haggled and negotiated with several people to try to get a ride, but no one wanted to take us that far. After about 45 minutes of trying, a young man who we will call “Mario Andretti” (because of his impressive driving skills, and because I could never pronounce his name correctly)  came up to us and agreed to take us to Santa Teresa for 50 soles. That works out to be about $15 US. I know of no one who would drive that far for $15. We agreed and loaded our packs into the back of his car. It was an absolutely breathtaking ride through the Andes mountains. Along the way we tried to take as many pictures and videos as possible. I strongly suggest this route to anyone making the trip to Machupicchu.

0513171151

Our little ride to Santa Teresa

 

FB_IMG_1513351064851
After about 4 hours we made it to Santa Teresa and to our room, which was made like a treehouse. We unloaded our packs and I paid “Mario” for the ride, but I felt the cost for the ride was far too low, so I paid him double his asking price. 100 soles.  He smiled and stared at me in disbelief and looked as if he might cry, and in his best English, he asked if I was sure I wanted to pay him that much. I assured him I did and shook his hand, and he went on his way.
We checked into the Ecoquechua lodge and climbed the stairs to our room. Everything is a climb in Peru.  We unloaded our packs and decided to rest the rest of the day. We also discovered that somewhere along the way we had lost the lens cap to Sherries camera. It’s not a good thing to have a very expensive camera shoved down in a backpack with no lens cap, but we figured it was gone for good. Oh well. We went to bed and slept amazingly to the sounds of the jungle coming in through the open wall of our room.
The next morning we awoke to heavy rains and figured we would take it easy and stay in the room, but after a while though, I was bored and decided to throw on my rain gear and head into the main part of this tiny town and explore. As I was walking up the hill into town I notice someone in a car behind me blowing the horn, so I stop and turn around to see what I had done wrong. And there was “Mario”, smiling, with his hand out the window. He pulls up beside me and motions me to come to the window . Then he drops the lost lens cap in my hand. We both smiled with appreciation and I thanked him for returning it to us.  That my friends is Karma.

Be good to others and it will find it’s way back to you.

The “Cheap Way” to Machupicchu part 2

 

“Live with no excuses and travel with no regrets.’

18447207_10154509852021709_1758241688562855952_n

……

Now, I’ve flown before, but never in something the size of a 767. My uncle was a pilot, and as a kid, he would take me on some of his short flights. But these were just small two seater Cessnas. Nothing like this. And as I have mentioned before, I have a hard time patiently sitting still for a long time, so the 7.5 hour flight felt like a week.

With nothing much to do but sit and wait, I think I checked the screen in front of me every 10 minutes just to see how close we were to Lima. The highlight of the entire flight  came as the sun was setting, in the form of a full moon. Sadly I couldn’t get a very good shot of it through the window. At around 11:30 pm, we started our decent in to Lima. Looking out the window, I could see dim street lights peppering the landscape, but little else. Our ability to see the city in the daylight would have to wait until our return flight from Cusco.

After landing and departing, we were ushered down several long hallways to the immigration area, and to a line with what seemed like hundreds of people. It took us about 30 minutes or so to reach the desk and get our passports stamped. On past immigration was another gift shop which we avoided. We had enough of gift shops in Atlanta. Down another hallway and we found ourselves in the main lobby where domestic passengers were arriving, along with hordes of taxi drivers holding signs with names on them. They are there to pick up their passengers and drive them to their destinations. As for us, we will be  spending the next 5 hours roaming the terminal or trying to nap while waiting on our next flight.

Before we could do that though, we needed to find an atm, and on the second floor we found several. We withdrew as many Soles (Peruvian currency) from it as it would allow. The reason for this? Some of the rooms we had booked for this trip only accepted cash, and the fact that atms are less common in the smaller towns we were heading to.  At that time, the US dollar was equal to about 3.35 Peruvian soles, and when you withdraw several hundred US dollars, that turns into a lot of Peruvian cash to carry around. With that taken care of, I headed to a restroom stall to organize our money into small envelopes we had designated for each hostel we were going to be staying at.
With the money squared away, we roamed the terminals second floor and found a spot on the floor to try and rest for a bit. Certainly not comfortable but that’s all we could do. After that got too hard on the old bones, we moved to the food court area and found an empty table to rest our heads on.
It was a long night.

Around 5 am, we were allowed to start boarding. From our gate, we were ushered onto a bus and driven to the other side of the airport to our plane. After we had found our seats, one of the attendants handed me a folded paper with instructions on how to operate the emergency exit, which to my surprise was right beside my seat. She then proceeded to question me in Spanish if I could help in case of an emergency. Now, I am decent at speaking Spanish, but she was speaking way too fast for me to keep up, so i just nodded and smiled.

It was still dark as we took off from Lima so I figured I would try to take a short nap before landing in Cusco. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I realized that no matter how hard I try, I can’t sleep on a plane. It turns out that this was a good thing, otherwise I would have missed one of the greatest sunrises I have ever seen. Halfway in to the 1 hour and 20 minute flight, I look out and see the sun rising over the snow capped Andes Mountains.

0511170725

I was speechless. A tear came to my eye. I had waited so long for the chance to make it to this beautiful country, and now i was here. Sadly, the pictures I took simply don’t do that sunrise justice.

Landing at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport is quite different from any other airport I’ve ever visited. The terminal is relatively small, and there is only one runway. On the way out of the terminal, there are baskets of coca leaves for passengers to take and chew if needed. Why, you ask? ALTITUDE… You are now at approximately 11,000 ft above sea level. Coca leaves or coca tea is said to help with the effects of altitude, and are available everywhere. When you get off the plane and take a deep breath, you immediately realize the increased difficulty in breathing.

Outside the terminal is another horde of taxi drivers waiting for their passengers. We find a driver and load our packs in the trunk. It is now a 2 hour drive to The Sacred Valley, and our first real stop on this trip, Ollantaytambo.0512171058

 

To be continued….