The adventure started when we arrived at Cusco´s aiport at 7:30AM to pick up Chelsea and Le. Rush hour in the craziest city we´ve ever driven in. Given, Cusco was built over 500 years ago, long before cars, and has since adopted many one way streets and confusing intersections. We stalled on one of the hills, had to back up, got lost more than once, and somehow eventually found our hostel and a parking garage. Adventure for the day. I was ecstatic to see my sister after nearly 5 months, it was like I was coming home to something familiar after so much constant unknown. Spending the week with her cured the homesickness that had been afflicting me.
We spent two nights in Cusco, excitedly trying street food, exploring the market, splurging on Peru´s finest gourmet dishes (so many thanks to Chelsea and Le for treating us!), dancing a night away Peruvian style, and planning for the journey ahead. Having the girls here was such a treat, we´d forgotten that we should be appreciating and taking pictures of all the different and interesting aspects of South American life- markets, street vendors, churches, all of it. It was great sharing a fresh perspective with them.
Since we had the car, we´d planned a unique trip to Machu Picchu, rather than signing up for the usual Inca Trail or Jungle Trek that many people do. We stocked up on dried goods, fruits, veggies, bread, water and wine and hit the road, headed for the infamous and magical Sacred Valley. We stopped along miradors and descended into the valley, marveling at the grandeur of the Andes and the fertile valley that they cradle. We passed fields of quinoa, papas, flowers and other crops, divided by rock walls. We passed Inca ruins, sitting unassumingly up in the hills, preserved there for hundreds of years.
We arrived in Ollataytambo, where we attempted to visit the most famous fortress ruins, but were denied at the gate for not having an extremely overpriced ¨tourist ticket¨that we could not justify the cost of. (Side note: Prices vary greatly in Peru depending on your nationality tourists pay 2-10 times the price of locals for nearly everything… it´s quite frustrating) Instead, Chris, Chelsea and Le hiked up to some just as fascinating ruins opposite the tourist trap and enjoyed some fantastic views (I was still feeling raspy and decided to rest in preparation for Machu Picchu). However, once on top, they were literally attacked by angry goats, standing on the edge of a cliff. The girls came down screaming with Chris following behind after having had held off the mad goat. Adventure for the day.
We continued driving down river, turned off onto a dirt road and crossed a wooden bridge to find a lovely camping spot near a small village. We cooked a delicious pasta dinner, watched as stars and then a nearly full moon filled the sky, and warmed ourselves by a campfire as the PeruRail train chugged by across the river. The next morning, we drove past farmers working their fields and found the paved road again. We continued to climb out of one valley until we reached a 4,300 meter pass, then began to descend into the Amazon Basin. Quickly, the landscape turned to jungle, the air became humid and we were able to breathe again. Around lunchtime, we were stopped at a rock slide. Apparently the mountain was falling and we needed to wait for tractors to move it, which surprisingly came fairly quickly. We fixed lunch and enjoyed the break. After an hour, we were waved through, but were disheartened by the boulders still rolling off the cliff. We drove as fast as possible past the slide and continued down the road. Adventure for the day.
The next section of road was awful. It turned to a one lane dirt mountain road that pretended to be a two lane semi-major roadway that lead to the town where many people start their Machu Picchu climb. Driving it, we climbed up switchbacks, balanced on the edge of cliffs plunging to the valley below. We crossed rivers (more than creeks- which we´d become accustomed to crossing, yes, with our station wagon), we passed over rickety wooden bridges, we were passed by mad speeding taxi drivers and we felt as if the road would never end. Too much adventure for one day! Chelsea and I resorted to popping a box of wine in the back seat while Chris and Le bravely got us to the amazing hot springs that awaited us at the end of the insane road. We arrived at the thermal baths outside of Santa Teresa and relaxed in the fresh hot water, drank some well deserved beers, made another delicious dinner and camped in the parking lot.
The following day, we began our journey to Machu Picchu. We drove another bad stretch of road along the most vicious river we´d ever seen and parked the car at a hydroelectric plant before beginning a 2-hour walk along railraod tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes, which sits at the base of Machu Picchu. It was already past 1pm when we arrived, and our legs were sore from the fast pace we kept during the walk. So while Le (a fire cracker!) had it in her to hike the 1000 meters up to Machu Picchu, Chelsea, Chris and I took the easy way out and rode the bus, opting to enjoy more time at the top. Hiking around Machu Picchu: adventure for the day!
The ruins of Machu Picchu are spectacular. Imagining how the Incas built such an extensive, developed town on the side of a mountain is mind boggling. The stone carvings are beyond impressive, given their lack of metal tools to create them. We spent the afternoon wandering around the ruins, soaking in the beauty of them and the surrounding mountains. The next day, we drove a long 10 hours back over the crazy dirt road up, around and down the mountain, back to the paved road, up, over and around another mountain (passing the rock slide area and being forced to stop again), and finally back to Cusco. Chelsea bravely drove for a couple hours and quickly adopted the Peruvian style, swerving for wildlife and using the horn freely. Once we got into the city, our car decided to stall every time we stopped for a light or stop sign, making for a frustrating (but in hindsight, funny) end to an otherwise pleasant day. Still, adventure for the day :)
Cheslea and Le left the next morning, sadly ending an incredible adventure and returning Chris and I to our slow paced, who knows what we´ll do tomorrow, life. We loved spending the time with them and getting to experience the Sacred Valley together, the Andes mountains create some of the most spectacular landscapes I´ve ever experienced. Now, we´ll make our way back to Chile to sell the car that´s allowed for these unique, lovely, sometimes stressful but always worthwhile adventures. Another chapter ends and another begins, again.
Swimming in the thermal baths