Friday, March 2, 2007

It's good to make friends from Uruguay

Since we last checked in, Tyler and I went on a great trip through the Sacred Valley and up to Macchu Picchu. If I learned anything in those two days, it's that the Incans were extremely fit (no obesity problems with all those stairs and terraces in high up places) and that they must not have had any fear of heights.

On Tuesday, we boarded a bus for the Sacred Valley tour. In what we're learning is typical Peruvian fashion, we drove around in circles picking up small handfuls of people. There always seems to be some woman whoe sole job is to fill up the van before it departs for its destination. We finally got out of Cusco and, after a few typical tourists stops at markets so we can all spend money, we got to the valley itself. It was really amazing. Mountains rising up on either side, and it seemed like you tripped over Incan ruins at every moment.

Our first ruins stop was Pisaq, a ruin including terraces, a religious center, and urban center, a watchtower, fountain/irrigation channels, etc. One thing to know when coming to Peru is that there are no concessions for the out of shape or faint of heart. Going to the ruins involved a 3K walk down steep stone stairs. At every ruin we went to, there were always older couples, looking up at the many steps and vertical feet to claim, decrying, “They didn't tell us there'd be all these steps!”

Next, after one of the usual tour route lunches where you're forced to eat at an overpriced restaurant, we arrived at Ollantaytambo, a fortress ruin that was one of the last stands between the last living Incan king (Pisarro had killed the other one) and the Spanish. Again, lots of steps, but cool carvings, amazing Incan walls.

The only downside of the tour was, well, being on a tour. We'd been spoiled when we visited the other local ruins and got to walk at our own pace, on our own time. While the guide is always useful and informative, we always had to leave before we were ready and only got to see a small portion of all the ruins that were at each site. But, with our limited language skills, which limits our ability to communicate/barter/use modes of transport that aren't tours, it was the easiest way to see some sights and get ourselves to Macchu Picchu.

Which is where the Uruguayans come into the picture. When we set up our tour at our hostel, Marlon, the owner, seemed to think it was a good idea to have us on a tour with other guests. We were OK with it, but a little nonplussed since we don't speak much Spanish and they didn't seem to speak any English. Our exchanges at that point had been good morning (buenos dias!) and good evening (buenos noches!) when our paths had crossed at the hostel. But, over the course of the day, we bonded a bit about our lack of exploration time. And it turned out that one person in the group, Soledad, actually spoke a fair amount of English, with the others varying between a little ("You like sports? Seattle Super Sonics?”) to none, we were able to go to the market with them, get food, find our way to the Macchu Picchu trail and otherwise navigate a little more easily than normal.

Now, maybe having help doing some marketting doesn't seem like a big deal, but let me explain. Our first--and last--attempt to buy something at a market had been in Arequipa. We went with the idea of buying some bread, a little breakfast, before hitting the city. When we found the bread portion of the market, we went up to one guy and tried to ask how much for two pieces of bread. Let’s just say we ended up with six pieces of bread for five soles (we payed 1-2 soles for 10 pieces of bread with the Uruguayans) and had avoided food purchases at markets pretty much since.

But back to Macchu Picchu. After a train ride to Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point to see the ruins, we woke up at 3:45AM to hike into the ruins for sunrise. I woke up excited for Macchu Picchu day; let’s just say that Tyler is less of a morning person. We’d feared it would be cold, but hiking 700 meters up on stone stairs takes care of that problem. And it was amazing to arrive so early. After climbing up and up and up and up, we arrived at the gate. Only to climb more steps to get the quintessential view of Macchu Picchu. After catching our breath and taking in the view, we joined the tour that was part of our package. While I was feeling like I could leave or take it, it was a useful introduction to the ruins. Then—best of all—we had the whole day to then do as we pleased. After resting and eating, we were able to climb like vicunas (the wild camelid cousin of the domesticated llama and alpaca) through the ruins to our hearts’ desires.

The only downside was that the hike into the ruins took much of our energy away, so we didn’t do the other famous hike at the ruins, Youngs Peak up Wanapicchu (the mountain you always see behind the ruins). While we were OK with it that day, our Uruguayan friends did it, and their pictures did make us wonder momentarily about our decision. But it was also good to have a day to sit and stare and wander and wonder. And there were so few people there at 6:15 in the morning (imagine that!). By mid-afternoon, the place was crawling with tour groups in Spanish, English, French, and Japanese, that we mostly played “dodge the tourists” for the afternoon.

It was interesting to see a site so familiar from pictures and travel books. I almost had to pinch myself to realize we were actually there. And then it was fun to see it from new and different angles to make it our own memory.


Bianca said...

Hey guys!
I'm finally catching up with all your posts! This is so cool!
My 2 cents on Wanapiccu: I hiked up and down it with my stepmom when I was there - amazing, unbelievable, incredible and it rendered me useless for the next day as my thighs raged at me.
Thanks for all the updates! Be safe! Rock on! Bianca

Sarah said...

Bianca--it´s great to here from you! And I imagine we would have been in the same boat, so we weren´t totally regretful!