Arequipa, Day Two

Now that both Edith and Jay had departed back to the US, Sheri and Larry decided to sleep in.  We had done all of the major Arequipa touristy things the previous day, so we decided that this would be a day of lounging–eating, shopping, blogging :).  We had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant, and it was only us and one other couple from San Deigo at the hotel.  Then we did some internet blogging, and caught up on our e-mail.

For lunch we headed by taxi to  Tradición Arequipeña.  It was another beautiful day, and the view of the volcanoes was wonderful.  The restaurant had just opened and a kids part was going on in one section.  The day was getting warm, so we decided to sit inside.  As an appetizer, we had a Corn and Andean Cheese–the cooked corn was fresh and much less starchy than we had tried previously.  For a main course, Sheri again had stuffed peppers and scalloped potatoes; Larry had another Palta de Rellena (stuffed avocado with chicken) and Papas Fritas.  The restaurant slowly filled up with locals, and they were doing a soundcheck for music which sounded like it was a great place to spend the afternoon.  However, we wanted to see a little more of the city and do some shopping.

We gabbed a taxi and headed back to Plaza de Armas.  We passed through the bustling market area, seeing another portion of the city.  We did some final shopping (since Arequipa is known for its shopping).  After a while, we decided to grab a dessert.  We looked for a while and finally found Crepismo, a creperie related to ZigZag (where we had had a wonderful dinner previously in Arequipa).  It was a two story cafe with a great atmosphere.  We grabbed a comfy couch upstairs in the loft area, and ordered our snack.  The aroma of the crepes being made was wonderful.  Sheri had a chocolate crepe, and Larry had a crepe of butter, cinnamon and sugar.  They were fabulous.  We relaxed for a while, and soaked in the atmosphere.  Before we left, Larry went to the rooftop and took some photos overlooking the Monastery and city itself.

We got some money and walked back to the hotel.  We spent a little more time on the hotel laptop, and finally were caught up with the blogging up to that point in the trip.  We were heading to the Amazon tomorrow, so we repacked our bags to focus on what we needed for the jungle (only 1 duffel and our daypacks).  We paid our hotel bill, since we would be leaving early for a 6:45AM flight.  Larry realized that he had left the ATM card at the machine when he got money previously; Sheri quickly canceled it online before someone could use it as a credit card.

We decided to have a light meal in Arequipa, and we grabbed a taxi to go back to Crepismo.  Normally we don’t go back to the same restaurant again, but we didn’t want to risk a bad meal.  A lot of locals were enjoying Saturday night there–a table of older ladies seemed to be the community matrons as a lot of people came up and talked to them and wished them well.  Sheri ordered a salad of lettuce, egg, avocado and tomato; while Larry had the Marinera sandwich (warm bread, tuna, tomato, and capers)–both were wonderful.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream and a raspberry crepe.  Yet another great meal.  We sat in the window and watched people go by on the Saturday night.  Double decker buses passed by with the 2nd floor filled with kids dressed up (and screaming and making noise) for the Quincineros celebration for some girl (as her father sat in silence amongst all the teenagers).

We walked back to the Plaza de Armas square, and it was bustling for people out for a walk for the temperate evening.  We had a last look around at the European square.   We saw one ambulance come for a car that had been in an accident which was really amazing since the never seemed to be any general right-of-way defined.  Whoever got to an intersection first wins; and there were very few traffic lights.  There were lots of sudden stops as some taxi or bus would take the right of way.  Surprisingly there were few accidents or even dented cards.  We did see one deadlock scenario where a large four-way intersection was gridlocked with cars unable to move, unable to yield.  Luckily we were able to skate around it in our taxi.

We headed back to the hotel.  We felt safe in the neighborhood, seeing numerous cops walking their beat.  However, we had been stopped two separate times in the last few days (once by an old woman and once by an old man) and warned to be careful and watch for thieves.  But we always felt safe.  We reached Hotel Arequipal, and we did our final preparations for our early morning flight to the Amazon jungle.

Arequipa, Day One

I started our first full day in Arequipa by sleeping in a bit, still trying to recover. Jay and Larry had breakfast together, and I snuck upstairs for some bread and fruit before breakfast ended. We ended up hanging around the hotel for part of the morning – Jay had a family emergency and it was starting to sound like he was going to need to go home early. He finally made the decision to fly home and changed his Delta flight, then we hurried in to town to the LAN office to change his two LAN flights into one going to Lima.

The LAN office was very helpful, much easier than trying to make the changes over the phone. We made sure to go to a LAN office with actual LAN agents, not a travel agent. The change was easy and Larry and I got checked in.

Next on our to-do list was to see a bit more of Arequipa before Jay left. We wanted to see Juanita, the mummy of a 14-year old girl that was sacrificed to quell volcanic activity. I thought I knew where the museum was, so we went to the pre-Andean Museum and paid admission. The museum is situated in a colonial house near the main square with parquet floors and stained glass french doors upstairs. There are ten rooms filled with artifacts – weavings, pottery, weapons, headresses. The weavings are 500 years old, excavated in the 50s, and are still colorful and very much intact.

It turns out that I had the museum wrong (I should not be allowed to make decisions while sick), and Juanita wasn’t at the museum. We figured this out as we entered the last room. Juanita is actually located at the museum of the Catholic University, just down the street, but when we went there we found out she was at the laboratory being cleaned. Oh well.

We had a quick lunch of sandwiches (Larry had a chicken burger) at a little cafe called La Covacha, then went back to the hotel so Jay could get packed up for his flight. After that, we had a little over an hour left, so we took a taxi to the Santa Catalina de Siena Monastery. The Monastery was founded in 1579 and is like a small village behind thick stone walls, with streets and cells where the nuns lived. More than 200 nuns lived there, but now only about 30 live there. In 1972, it opened to the public, but the nuns that live there now remain cloistered and separated from the tourists.

The Monastery has six streets, a square, a cemetery, an art gallery and 80 housing units. Most of the housing units include a place to sleep, a small sitting area, and a small kitchen with a clay oven. Some have small patios as well. We only had a short amount of time there, so we didn’t use a guide, but given the time it’s probably worth it to hire a guide.

We hurried back to the hotel via taxi, and Jay left for the airport. Larry and I napped for the rest of the afternoon, then went out for dinner to Ary Quepay, located in an interesting neighborhood on the outskirts of town. It’s a family-owned, casual restaurant that was pretty empty for a Friday night. We split another palta rellena (stuffed avocado is becoming our favorite thing to eat here), and I had adobo (pork stew) and Larry had the grilled pork shoulder (chancho de plancha, I think). It ended up being a very porky dinner, both were not bad but not great either.

After dinner we wandered about the neighborhood a bit, then caught a cab back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

Colca Canyon to Arequipa

We got up early, because we wanted one last look at the condors this morning.  It had rained overnight, but the sky was only party cloudy.  We met for breakfast at 6:45 at the hotel restaurant, but they weren’t ready for us.  We finally brought out bread, juice, coffee and matte de coca.  We finished and went down to check out.  Kuntar Wassi only took cash, but they had almost no change.  Ultimately, the payment took almost all of our available money. We loaded our bags into the tourist van and rushed off to Cruz de Condor at 7:20.  On the way we saw a young condor already winging its way along the canyon rim.

We got to Cruz de Condor at 7:45 and quickly staked out a great spot (after scoping out the area the day before).  There weren’t many tourists yet, and we got good spots overlooking the canyon.  Immediately we started seeing condors.  It was amazing, as they glided by, and circled in the updrafts gathering height.  It was incredible to see their wingspan as they passed by us.  As we waited between condor appearances, we saw a chinchilla, as well as falcons and hawks.  A condor even landed near us, and spread its wings, while the tourists snapped numerous photos.  At 9:30 there were no more condors, but lots of tourists–we decided to leave.  Edith and Jay did some final shopping, and we headed back to the van.  We continued to Chivay along the wet and potholed road.  Colca Canyon looked lush after last night’s rains.

We decided not to stop for lunch in Chivay since it was only 10:45 and our driver said it was only 3 hours to Arequipa.  He rushed past the entrance and headed back to the big city.  We were no longer site-seeing, but zooming through the mountains back to the hotel.  We saw the chinchilla family (that we had missed coming in) as they rushed for cover as we sped by.  We saw blanketed peaks that had been clear days before.  We saw more vicunas, alpacas and llamas grazing in the grasslands.  It was amazing how quickly we went from snowy mountains to the arid plateaus.  Evos brought us back to Casa Arequipa without incident.  We said goodbye, tipped him, and wished him the best.

Jay, Sheri and Larry checked back in to the hotel, then we all went for lunch at Sol de Mayo.  Edith’s flight wasn’t for a while, so we had time for lunch. The restaurant was crowded in its open courtayard, and it was nosiy with the late lunch crowd.  Larry had the chicarron de chancho (fried pork) which was good.  Sheri and Edith had a stuffed pepper with scalloped potatoes.  Jay had ceviche which took forever to arrive.  We split some water and a pitcher of Chica Morada, blue corn, juice which was tasty.  We did a little more shopping and got churros from a street cart.  Edith tried to take a photo of the cart, but the lady didn’t want her photo taken.  We went back to the hotel.  Sheri decided she needed a nap after the rough and fast drive from Cabanaconde.  Larry and Jay accompanied Edith to the airport in a taxi, and then they went back to the hotel.  Edith headed to her flight back to Lima, and ultimately back to the United States–we were going to miss her.

After relaxing for a while, we went out to El Vineda for dinner.  It was a little touristy, and it had a VERY loud Andean band playing music soon after we arrived.  We switched to another table just to be able to have a conversation.  Larry had the stuffed avocado which was good.  Jay had ostrich meat on skewers.  Sheri had a stuffed pepper and scallops.  After dinner, we walked around the square and finally went back to the hotel.  We crashed for the night after a long and busy day.

Colca Canyon

We were up early to meet with our driver for a ride to Cruz del Condor, the lookout point for the Andean Condors. We got to the lookout just after 8am, and as we walked up to a spot to view the condors, one glided right past us. The condors are huge and lazily ride the thermals in the mornings to gain altitude. The older ones are marked with white on their wings which make them easier to photograph.

We sat for two hours, changing spots a couple of times to catch a better view. We saw a number of them, exciting every time. With the scenic backdrop, it was a really neat thing to see.

We went back to the hotel and decided to have lunch in town – not much to choose from, so we just picked a spot. We ordered, and then the people working there started to leave… to go to the nearby grocery. Edith had ordered pasta, and they came back from the grocery and said they didn’t have it. Jay’s cheese sandwich came out, then we waited… then my soup came out, and finally Larry’s chicken. We continued to wait for my chicken sandwich, which finally arrived. Edith ate it since I couldn’t even finish my chicken noodle soup.

We had a reservation for a horseback ride at 2, but it turned out to be more of a horseback walk, with three of us on horses and the non-English speaking guide walking along. So we decided I would hang out with Edith for the afternoon, and Larry and Jay would go on horseback with the guide (on horseback).

Edith and I walked through town and figured out how to get to the arch that marks the entry to Cabanaconde. I suggested we walk a little more, because I had remembered a sign pointing to the San Miguel lookout just ahead. We set out for the lookout, and Edith found donkeys by the side of the road to photograph.

We made it to the point, about a 45-minute walk from town. We were glad we went there – it was a gorgeous view of the canyon, and we saw more condors coming back home. We hung out there a while before going back for dinner.

Dinner was at the hotel again (lesson learned), but I had decided to take my “noche” pill before dinner, on an empty stomach. I’d been on Peruvian cold medicines, some for day and some for night, for the past week. We got to dinner and Edith and I ordered an avocado salad, which caused trouble because it wasn’t on the menu, but she had seen someone the night before eating it. I declared that I felt high. Our hot chocolate was delivered, and I remember having some of that plus my avocado salad (which turned out to be a sliced avocado with some sliced tomato on the side), and then I think I remember Larry delivering me to bed before dinner was over. Bad idea to have the noche pill before eating.

Arequipa to Colca Canyon

After warm showers at Casa Arequipa, we met for breakfast at our rooftop restaurant.  They served bread, juice, fruit, coffee, tea, and scrambled eggs.  Larry, Sheri and Jay put part of the the luggage in storage, taking only necessary stuff to Colca Canyon (since we would be back in a few days, and Edith would be heading back to the US after visiting Colca Canyon).

Our driver/guide, Evos, arrived at 8AM.  Our bags were loaded on the tourist van, and off we went.  We retraced part of our Puno-to-Arequipa route.  We left Arequipa behind, with the snowcapped mountains overlooking the city.  Our guide spoke only Spanish, so Larry moved to the front seat to translate.  Evos knew all of the mountains, flora and fauna.  We passed through the Camelid Preserve, where there were 6000 alpaca, vicuna and llamas.

We had a rest break at Pata Wasai (High Place), where there were bathrooms and matte de coca.  The canyon walls looked like an Arizona landscape.  There was even a sheep roaming around the reststop wanting to be petted.  We got back in the van, and saw flamingoes in small ponds, and more camelids.  We paused at Mirador de Volcanos/Mirador de Andes at 15500 feet, the highest point of our trip.  Snow covered the rocks around.  Apachetas (stacked pyramids of rocks) littered the landscape; there were stacked as offerings to the mountains.  Evos stopped the van near a family of chinchillas, but they hid away.  After leaving the super high altitude, we descended to Chivay, the entrance to Colca Canyon.

We paid the Colca Canyon Entrance fee, but decided not to stop for lunch in Chivay.  So… our driver drove on.  He pointed out the mountains and the cities we saw in the distance.  We stopped at Yanque which had a pretty church and a nice square (although it was empty; no dancers like all of the stock photos).  We continued along the canyon rim, looking down at the farmland below).  We passed through a long, dusty tunnel.

We saw our first condor, drifting high in the sky.  However, we moved on and finally reached the town of Cabanaconde.  The main square had a condor statue in it, the main reason to bring people to the area.  We checked in to our hotel, Kuntur Wassi.  It was rustic but comfortable.  Sheri was exhausted and decided she needed to nap.  Edit, Jay and Larry went to lunch at the hotel restaurant (one of the best places to eat in town).  Larry and Jay had the trout, while Edith had chicken and fried potatoes.  The hotel provided us Pisco Sours as a welcome, which were strong at altitude.  We went back tot he rooms, and after resting up Larry, Jay and Edith went out to see the condors returning in the afternoon.  We wondered through the city in the general direction pointed out by the hotel staff, and finally found our way to the appropriate point (after almost being misdirected by a young kid trying to trick us).  We staked out our point on an outcropping, and saw 3 condors over the next hour.

We went back to town and looked for a place for dinner, but didn’t see anywhere appetizing.  Ultimately, we went back to the hotel and rested before dinner.  Larry, Edith and Jay met for a light dinner, while Sheri continued to sleep.  We met in the hotel restaurant and set near the wood burning oven to keep warm in the chilly evening.  We split fried potatoes, cheese soup, and vegetables.  A loud, large french group arrived at another table disturbing the quiet evening.  For dessert, we split 2 tres leches cakes and a warm brownie–all of which were very tasty.  We went to bed early, since we were going to be up early to see the condors tomorrow.

Puno to Arequipa

… also known as The Horrible Bus Day.

We arrived at the bus station early, after getting breakfast and a stop in at Rico Pan to get sandwiches and snacks for the ride. The bus was scheduled to leave at 10am and arrive at 3 in Arequipa, nonstop. We waited and 10am came and went, and finally boarded the bus around 10:15. We were seated in the upper level in the front four seats. It was warm, and we finally left the station at 10:30am.

We traveled for about an hour, until we arrived in Juliaca, where we pulled into the Sur Oriente bus station to pick up… not passengers, but vendors selling all sorts of things to eat. They roamed the bus calling out whatever they were selling and making exchanges with other passengers. The bus went around the block as the vendors sold, then stopped and they got off. Did I mention it was warm? No air conditioning on the bus.

We continued on, and it got downright hot on the bus. We closed the curtains on the windows and tried to just sleep the day away. I fought congestion and claustrophobia. The bus kept stalling going uphill. We went over at least one high pass. It was hot. The one bright spot was our sandwiches from Rico Pan, which were delicious.

We finally pulled in to Arequipa at 5pm and couldn’t get of the bus fast enough. We decided to just get a cab to our hotel since it seemed kind of far…. except all the cabs were tiny. We finally had to exit the bus station and found a larger cab on the street, but the cab driver didn’t know exactly where our hotel was. After a detour, we finally found Casa Arequipa, a cute little pink bed and breakfast situated in a nice neighborhood. The rooms are really nice, and we had high fives all around – good beds and hot showers were ahead. Every room is different, and the ones on the top floor seem a little better, especially the ones not facing the street (Andean Room, Sillar Room).

We got settled in and then found out the place we wanted to go for dinner was lunch only, so we picked another spot and set out on foot towards the historic center to find our restaurant. Arequipa is a colonial city, and most of the buildings are made with sillar, a white, porous volcanic stone. The square feels European, and overall the city feels less Peruvian than Cusco.

We wandered around a bit, then had dinner at Zig Zag – good beef, ostrich and alpaca. Jay had a little of all three. The alpaca was good, much more tender than what we had in Cusco.

We came back to the hotel and re-packed yet again for our trip to Colca Canyon the next day.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

We got up early and battled with the lack of hot water, at yet another hotel (as we all tried to take showers around the same time).  We then met down in the Colon Inn restaurant for their continental breakfast (toast, juice, yogurt, fruit, scrambled eggs, bread, tea); it was actually very good.  The tour van picked us up at 7:20 to take us out onto Lake Titicaca.

We quickly met our guide, Miguel, and we headed for the docks.  It was slightly raining, but luckily it was clearing.  As we went down the dock to our boat, we bought pens and paper (as the guidebooks suggested gifts for the island children) which we couldn’t find the night before.  We boarded our “fast boat” the Suasi.  Looking out the window, the harbor was full of green algae.  After getting settled (and our boat finally manuveuring our the congested boat area), it was a 15 minute ride to the reed islands–Uros Islands.  The skies cleared as we got farther away from Puno.

We stopped at Isla Suma Kili.  Miguel gave a description of life on the reed island, and how the islands were made.  When there are disputes among the community, a “bad” family can be given a piece of the reed island which is then cut off from the island itself.  The reed floor was all squishy to walk on as we walked around.  Antonia, one of the island inhabitants, showed us the hut where she, her husband, and 2 children lived.  It was small, but it even had solar panels to power the radio and lights.

We all bought some of the hand stitched items made by the Uros islanders.  After doing some shopping, Sheri and larry climbed the tower to look at the other 40 reed islands in the area.  Jay and Larry then took a reed boat to the next island, Isla Winay Totoro. Edith and Sheri waved from the tower, and then waited for the Suasi to transfer them between islands.  The next island was a lot more commercial, with a lot more things being sold.  There was a demonstration of cooking, and flamingos were feeding in a small pool.  We all got back the boat for the 1 hour trip to Taquile.

As we exited the harbor area near Puno and the Uros Islands, we finally went on the main portion of Lake Titicaca.  We could see Bolivia in the distance.  After dropping off part of the group at one part of the island, we were dropped off with our guide at another point on Taquile (a fairly large island; 5.5km by 1.5km).

We climbed from dock through fields up to a clearing.  Miguel then told us about the community and the history of the island.  How they dow farming without horses or cattle, but by manpower.  They grow many crops (potatoes, quinoa, corn) and make many textiles.  The family and community looked on.  Miguel told us how before marriage the villagers live 2-3 years together, to make sure they are compatible, before having a big weeklong ceremony/party.  He explained the hat colors and what they mean (single vs. married), and the hat is also where the men keep their coca leaves :).  The wonders of the local pants were talked about; and an islander proceeded to ground up a plant and adding water, made a soapy mixture perfect for cleaning out alpaca wool–amazing!  Miguel then let us shop through the locals handmade items, and we went up to a house for lunch.  We were served great bread, trout (REALLY fresh), and potatoes.  There was also a minty tea (Muna) which Edith and Sheri liked a lot.  The community then played music and tried to get us to join in.  After they were done, we passed out the notebooks and pens to the kids who were very thankful.  We said our goodbyes and walked over the island to where we would be picked up for home.

We waited for a long while, but finally our boat returned.  While waiting we learned from Miguel that the Peruvian trains were now on strike–luckily we had arrived yesterday without incident on the train (the Jersey girl that we met was bummed that she would need to take the bus back from Puno, and worried she would never get her train fair back).  We were taken back to Puno–all of us tired from being in the sun and on the water all day.  We got back to Puno and it immediately started raining.  We were taken back to our hotel, and then we went back out and took a taxi to the Bus Station to book our bus to Arequipa.  After visiting multiple places, we finally chose one (Sur Oriente) that was supposed to leave around 10AM (as opposed to 3PM) for the 5-6 hour journey, since we didn’t want to arrive too late.  After booking our bus (only 7 dollars per person), we took a taxi to Plaza de Armas.  It was nothing compared to the amazing square in Cusco.  We visited one of the fair trade shops before it closed, where Sheri got a pair of underwear embossed with a llama.  We then went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

We had dinner reservations at La Casona.  Larry was FINALLY able to try Cuy (guinea pig, a specialty in Peru) since they had a half-cuy on the menu.  When the cuy arrived it still had the head on it.  Larry immediately sent it back to have the head removed (which the waitress snickered at).  It tasted a similar to rabbit, but it was too much work for the meat that was provided.  Sheri had an avocado stuffed with shrimp; Jay had ceviche, and Edith had an avocado salad.  No one tried the Cuy, but Larry :)  We didn’t have dessert and headed back to the hotel.  On the way, we looked at Rico’s where we would by snacks for tomorrow’s bus ride.

Cusco to Puno

We decided early on that we wanted to take the Andean Explorer train to get from Cusco to Puno. It’s ten hours, and the train is made up of refurbished Pullman cars, and tagged as one of the most scenic train rides in Peru. It was scenic and nice to rest for a day but ten hours was a long time to be on a train.

We were up early to check out of our hotel and at the station just before 7am to check in for the 8am departure. The station wasn’t even open yet. When it finally opened, we had to show our reservation to get in, then we went into a little waiting room and were given a number to speak to an agent. The agent exchanged our voucher for our tickets and we went and checked in our luggage and went to another small waiting room, carpeted with nice wing chairs, with live Peruvian music. It’s the strangest train station I’ve ever been in.

We boarded and found that our assigned seats weren’t even together, and other people had taken our seats. So we just found a table with four of the same wing chairs around it and sat there. The train was two of the passenger cars with the chairs and tables (total capacity 72 people), a bar car, and an observation car with big windows, benches, and an open-air balcony.

They served breakfast (for a fee), but everything else was included – lunch, Pisco Sours mid-morning and mid-afternoon, afternoon tea, and juice. We went through many small villages, and the children waved at the train. We spent some time in the observation car and waved back at anyone who waved. We saw a lot of sheep and llama and alpaca herds and herders, and a lot of the Peruvian countryside. We passed through Juliaca, a city about an hour away from Puno (where the airport is located). Juliaca was having a market day (or maybe they have one every day, and we slowly made our way through town, inches from stacks of items for sale. We even passed over things for sale that people had put on the railroad ties. Juliaca is a pretty rough-looking town.

As I mentioned, it was a long time to sit on a train and by the time we got into Puno we were ready to be off the train. We got our luggage and set out to find our hotel, but we were surprised to see a driver with my name on it. I didn’t remember setting it up, but it was nice to have a driver ready to take us to the hotel!

We were staying at Colon Inn. I think there’s an accent in there somewhere but the name is funnier without it. It’s part of the Best Western chain, oddly enough.

The first thing we did was get onto the Internet and sketch out plans for the next few days. We didn’t have any reservations for the next six nights or so, and now it was time to make some decisions – how many nights to stay in Puno, how to get to Arequipa and Colca Canyon, and how many days to stay where. I sent out some emails to agencies and lodges and waited to hear back. Luckily the hotel had wireless and Larry and I both had our iPhones with us so getting email was relatively easy.

Next we had to search out an agency to take us out onto the lake the next day. We had an address for All Ways Travel, and as we stepped out of the hotel, we saw the sign right across the street – All Ways Travel. Convenient! We went up and decided to do the remote Taquile trip, which has a cultural focus and also includes a trip to Uros. Larry and I had planned to do an overnight stay with a family, but we decided it was a bad idea with how sick I still was.

The tour we picked out is on a fast boat, and limits the group to 8 people. We paid more for it but were happy with our choice. This meant we had to stay in Puno for two nights and travel by bus to Arequipa, so we made plans for an overnight in Arequipa.

We went out for dinner at Incabar, which was pretty good. Puno is fairly rough-and-tumble, not the nicest city, but there’s a pedestrian zone with some restaurants and shops. Incabar is located there. After dinner we turned in and got ready for the trip to the islands the next day.

Aguas Calientes to Cusco

At 4AM, the bells rang and woke up everyone (except Sheri) up.  Things finally quieted down after the Easter week reveling.  Larry got up to check on our washed clothes and train tickets.  The tickets had arrived, but the clothes still hadn’t been dried.  Larry and Sheri’s room had no hot water; it had been turned off, and after about 20 minutes the hotel staff figured out what had happened.  Everyone met for the Gringo Bill’s buffet breakfast (scrambled eggs, bread, yogurt, granola, fruit, tea, juice).  We took our bags to storage, and checked out, since we had a while before our train back to Cusco.

We went shopping, although lots of stores were still closed (early on Good Friday).  Jay and Edith went to the market to shop, while Larry and Sheri did postcards (and then a little InternetCafe).  We met back up, and while Larry took the bags to the train, Sheri and Edith went shopping.  There was a last minut rush to buy something at the rather expansive market.  As we waited, a lot of people got off for their day trip to Machu Picchu (LAZY people :).

We got on the Vista Dome train with glassed cuved ceilings to view the scenery better.  They gave out snack boxes (ham and cheese sandwich, apple pastry and soda (Coke Zero and Inka Cola).  We saw amazing rapids as we parallelled the river.  We stopped several times for the lineman to get off the train and manually switch the track to allow Machu Picchu trains to pass.

It was interetesting to see the same areas we had treked previously.  In an hour and half, we travelled by train back to Allantaytambo; what had taken four days of strenuous effort on foot. We were met by a taximan with our names on a placard.  We went had a quick trip through town, and then rushed back to Cusco.  We rechecked into the same hotel, Ninos 2.  We went to our room and then back to town.  We searched for the Chcia Morada (blue corn) candy that was free at the hotel.  We shopped for more gifts.  We realized we hadn’t had lunch, so we went to Cafe Ayllu overlooking Las Armas Plaza.  Sheri and Edith had quinoa soup.  Larry hada a chicken, avocado, tomato sandwich and fries.  Jay had fried dough around cheese and avocado dip.  We tried the Lengua Pastry, and Edith ordered a dulce de leche crumbly cooking-wonderful!

Then we went on to search for the South American Explorer’s Club (which we had joined before leaving the US).  The address we had was wrong; the clubhouse had moved.  We made it to the new address only 15 minutes before closing.  We used the internet, and searched through info on Puno and Lake Titicaca.  We then did some more shopping at Chocolate, where Sheri and Edith had some thick, hot chocolate. 

We went back to the square and there was a Good Friday Processional going on.  The square was packed with people.  A Jesus statue in a glass casket and a Mary statue were hoisted on the shoulders of numerous people.  After watching the festivities, we made our way back to dinner at ‘A Mi Manera’.  We had a light dinner because of the late lunch.  We had an ‘Orgia de papas’ (Orgy of Potatoes) for an appetizer [different potatoes and cheese].  Jay had an avocado salad and pineapple shrimp; Sheri had ‘Dieta’ soup (chicken, angel hair pasta, and ginger); Edith had an avocado salad.  Larry had the Andean Stew.  The Chicha Morada (blue corn) drink was really good.  We didn’t have dessert, and we headed back to the hotel.

We saw that the Mary procession was still in progress, heading back to the main square.  As we neared our hotel, we saw that the streets were closed to cars.  People were creating colored sand and leaf paintings in the street.  As we rounded the final corner to our hote, we saw the Jesus procession in the distance coming towards us.  We waited in the street outside our hotel and watched the procession pass.  People were throwing flowers from the 2nd story onto the crowd and coffin as it passed.  We took photos as the long conga line of people walked down the street, trailing along after the initial group.

We dropped off our shopping items, and then we went looking for a cab to check on the train station for tomorrow.  We walked, and saw the remanants of the processions which had finally broke up.  We found a taxi to the train station, however, it was closed.  We went back to the hotel and packed for tomorrow’s Andean Explorer trip to Puno.

Inca Trail, Day Four: Machu Picchu

We were up early for a breakfast of pretty decent pancakes. I was still sick and we had rain on and off. We had a photo session with our amazing porters and tipped them before getting our daily snack bag along with our lunch (sandwiches).

The trail was a very rapid loss in elevation (1,000 feet) all stone steps. Downhill is definitely as hard on the body as uphill. We stopped at Winay Wayna ruins – very pretty – for a bathroom break and clothing adjustment. There’s a small campsite there, the last one on the trail before Machu Picchu – only 4k left to go to Machu Picchu!

The trail continued mostly downhill, stone path and steps, then steep steps uphill to the first Machu Picchu gate, where we were greeted with clouds and mist. We continued on about 10 more minutes to the second gate, the Sun Gate, and were delighted and amazed with our first view of Machu Picchu as the clouds parted. We made our way down to the guard house terraces, where we had an illegal sandwich. Alavro insisted we wait until this point to have our lunch, but kept reminding us that it was our responsibility if we got caught. Weirdo.

We had a quick tour with Alvaro of the main Machu Picchu sites, then checked in and Alvaro left us. We decided to wait to go back into Machu Picchu until the weather and tourists cleared, and sat in the outdoor restaurant and had a snack. Lo and behold, the rain cleared (mostly) and so did many of the tourists.

We spent more time exploring the ruins. We all couldn’t get over how incredible this place is, and how neat it was to make the trek on the trail to reach them. It’s a huge city, surrounded by jagged, tall mountains.

We took the bus into town and checked into our hotel – Gringo Bill’s. Lots of potential but in a bit of disrepair and noisy. There aren’t a lot of mid-range options for Aguas Calientes, but the $700/night place was sounding really great by now. At least we had hot showers and we were able to get some laundry done.

Larry and I went to the pharmacy for cold medicine, then we had dinner at Indo Feliz. It was a really good meal, with trout, soup and dessert. We stopped in at a nearby Internet cafe and caught up on email and tried to decide if we should change hotels in Puno (we decided not to) before turning in for the night.