Our first lesson came as we were checking in at the airport here in Teguc. Apparently if you are flying back to Honduras, and several other countries around the world (several in South America) you are required to show proof of being vaccinated for Yellow Fever within the last ten years. So...we were instructed to get that done as soon as we got there. Had we known at that point that the hospital has a health center and doctor which will get you all shot up and get the paperwork you need, we probably would have done it. It certainly been cheaper than the route we took...which involved taking several interesting walks through the non-touristy parts of Cusco looking for a public hospital that would vaccinate us for free. Of course we also found out that the free vaccine that they get (when they have it) that comes from Brazil can produce quite a few interesting side effects. So taking the long...very long story of walking, asking, etc. and trying to keep it short...we ended up paying a Cusco doctor $36 each...and then finding out that there has to be ten days on your official card you have to have (which of course we did not get from the doc) and therefore begging that hospital clinic to take pity on us and fudge our date of vaccination...that cost another $13 a piece. The airline was not about to ticket us without those ten days...regardless of the fact that we had been in the country only seven. Go figure. God helped it all work out though...we could have ended up spending another three or four days forced in country otherwise, and we were already close to running out of money as it was.
Arriving in Cusco we made our deals for tours, buses, trains, etc. involved with our time there, had some mate de coca (cocaine leaf tea) and slept a little bit (uh, two hours or less sleeping on the floor of the airport that night) before the several hour odyssey of getting to know the touristy and non-touristy sides of Cusco (see above) but really only saw a small part of the city since there are more than 400,000 people living in the former capital of the Incas. The cocaine leaf tea is supposed to help alleviate problems related to altitude sickness, what with the airport being over 11,000 feet, and I think at our max we were close to 13,000 ft. We never really suffered from the sickness, nor felt like the tea did anything to help...but I guess that is the point. That tea seems to be what everyone there drinks all the time. I even bought some cocaine candy for a friend in the US who is prone to altitude sickness and says it helps...she uses when skiing.
We spent a day touring some ruins closer to Cusco before catching the bus to the train to get to Machu Picchu. Very interesting sites, especially for me to hear from our guide about all the engineering, structural planning, and sheer volume of work done. It struck me that with the urban sprawl we have today...in many ways what they built is far superior even today to provide for people...agriculture, water, drainage, protection, food storage, and earthquake proof bases of operations. (This picture shows restaurant seating next to a very old aquaduct running through Ollantaytumbo)
Picture to the left: our tour bus...which included many different nationalities, but no apparent US citizens. Over our entire time there, I would say US passports made up less than 10% of the tourists. It was very nice to have most of our tours in Spanish...since the English we occasionally heard was not always the best.
The train that runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu was damaged in severe flooding back in January (it was scheduled to re-open July 1st) so we had to go to the train station...but get on a Mercedes bus to get to the temporary train station. There we were supposed to wait just a little while to take our train and be to our hotel by 9:00. Instead...there was a derailment further up the line, and after spending several hours in the cold, and in a mad dash that seemed to come straight from the Amazing Race (every man for himself to get a seat on the train which again miraculously we got...and then tried to be creative in finding a way to sleep a little, we finally got to our hotel at 2:30AM...slept for four hours, and then got up and got ready for Machu Picchu.
Nothing else we saw while we were in Peru really compares with Machu Picchu. We sacrificed sleep to be able to be there early and essentially have a couple hours to just sit and take it all in with almost no one else in the park. It is not surprising to me that it was not "discovered" until 1911. Again...the engineering involved with pulling something like that off is just amazing, and that they did it sacrificing nothing (no pun intended) of having what was needed: running water all the time (from a spring 8 km away!) drainage, enough terraces to produce food for the people that lived there...and the list goes on. The tour we had showed us so much of the surrounding mountains (you can see a face of an Inca in this picture if you think of him laying down, nose pointing up to the sky) and meaning of what was built, but like so many of the sites here...how they exactly did it all, what tools were used, what was the exact purpose, etc...is for the most part unknown.
We spent a day and a half in Lima (again little sleep getting there, and getting up at 2:00 to make our flight back to Teguc) which is a very different city. Almost eight million people, right next to the Pacific ocean...and the most remarkable part to me was that the temperature is 65 high, 60 low, even though it is at sea level and not much difference in distance from the equator than Honduras. The more moderate climate there is due to quite a few factors including the unique location of the city. Whatever the reason...it was quite enjoyable. Cusco was nice...but getting down near freezing at night (and with no heat in any building we entered) Valerie was not as big a fan of the cold. We stayed in a hostel in the Miraflores district, which was reported to be the nicest part of town. We had to walk for an hour to find a cheap enough hostel (and one that did not smell of marijuana) but were right across the Kennedy Park finally. There was a grocery store nearby (same in Cusco...we saved a bunch of money buying food there) and quite a few parks, like this one...the love park, which was only a few minutes from where we were staying, overlooking the ocean. We took a taxi to get to the biggest market, Polvos Azules, which is like a huge, multi-level open market...but with over 2,000 stores. We went to get some soccer jerseys...but they also had shoes, jeans, TVs, DVDs, (none of which were fakes of course...sarcasm blast inserted here) and basically more stuff of all kinds than you could shake a stick at. It is not a shock that this is not tourist central...and we got a few looks, but it was interesting to say the least. From there we visited downtown...and then took the cheap way back to our hotel via a bus, which was another interesting experience. Upon arriving, there was a jazz concert waiting for us in the park across the street. Add that to the free symphony we attended in Cusco, and it really did all add up to be a perfectly ordained vacation for Valerie.
Among other things, we got to try several different kinds of potatoes (Peru is home to over 1,000-5,000 different varieties depending on who you ask) llama steak, river trout, a drink made from purple corn, and of course, roasted guinea pig. What more can you ask from a vacation? It was not exactly relaxing in the traditional sense...but it was indeed the adventure Valerie was seeking.