Once again, my writing is going to be all bejumbled. I`m going to start with the most recent events and go backwards in time... sort of. I`ll start what with the title of this entry refers to, Choquequirao.
On March 31st, Heather and I started a trek to the ruins (they are not sure if they are Incan or pre-Incan) of Choquequirao, also known as the upcoming Machu Picchu. Heather and I had wanted to do these ruins for awhile and the day we were going to go to agencies and compare prices our teacher at our spanish school, Excel, informed us that a group of teachers from the school was headed to Choq (Choquequirao is too long to write so from now on it will be Choq.) and that we were welcome to come. At first, Heather and I weren`t sure about going with them because they weren`t going to have a guide and we were going to buy and cook all our own food. But when we looked at the numbers of it all, it was going to save us about $80 U.S. (about 230 soles) to go with them. Of course, we couldn`t pass up the chance. So within a 4 hour class span we had changed our whole plan for our last 2 weeks in Cuzco. I must say now, it couldn`t have worked out better. The teachers from Excel; Margo, Youjia, Marianes, and Ester (the director of Excel) had already done the math as to what food and how much everyone should bring. So they were buying the food and all Heather and I had to do was pay and pack some of it. We were also paying for transport to and from Cachora (where we started trekking), the donkeys to carry our stuff (high class trekking if you ask me), and the guy to lead the donkeys (our sort of guide whose name was Andres).
That Thursday, the 31st Heather and I woke up at 4:30am to start our adventure. As we were leaving, we happened to run into our roommates returning from a night out haha it was great. To get to Cachora took a little over 3 hours so we didn`t actually start trekking until around 11 because of a lot of waiting around for stuff. The first day of our trek was pretty easy. The start is flat for about 11 km and then downward until we reached our camp site by the river Apurimac, which means voices of the gods (or something like that I don`t remember exactly). Because this river is supposed to be a connection with the gods it is a tradition to bring a sacrifice for it. Marianes and Ester brought flowers to give to the river.
We were really camping in luxury that first night. We made chicken, rice, and mazamorrada (sp?). We were also sleeping in our tent in a stone building to protect us from the rain.
The second day was hard for me. It was steep switchbacks up a whole mountain. Heather and I were both thankful we rented some walking sticks. I always thought that walking sticks were for the weak and that they were pointless, but I actually turned out liking them a lot haha. That night we slept on some terraces of the ruins.
The third day we woke up at 5 in the morning to catch the sunrise at the ruins. We hiked probably 30 minutes more from our campsite and as soon as we stepped onto the first terrace, the sun peaked over the mountians. Perfect timing, eh? I was immediately filled with tons of energy, and even though my legs were sore I was running around the ruins trying to see all I could. We were literally the only people at the ruins. It was magical.
Now, people aren`t sure if the ruins are Incan or pre-Incan because of the structure of the stones. Some people believe that the ruins are pre-Incan because the types of stones used are different from other ruins and the ruins are not built in the same usual Incan manner. Others believe this is because other Incan cities were being attacked by the Spanish and so the Incans built Choq. as quickly as possible instead of taking their time. They also were in a hurry so they used the rocks that were near, rather than the rocks they usually used. Regardless, it was beautiful and intriguing. Only one third of the ruins have been uncovered and the place was huge. It was interesting to see parts of terraces under forest. Some things that Choq is famous for are the patterns and llamas built into the walls of the terraces. They built the walls of the terraces, but included llamas and a zig zagged pattern with white rocks.
So after 3 hours of getting the feel for Choq. it was time to descend the mountain and take back all the work we had accomplished the day before. Downhill is always harder for me. I think because of my knees. We also had more ground to cover (we had to go slightly more uphill on the other mountain across the river). We started out, but then the others wanted a break so I went on by myself. We were to meet up for lunch by a waterfall. So I went off by myself and it was great. I had been needing some alone time and it was the perfect way to do it. By the time I got to the waterfall, Margo, Youjia, and Heather were only a little bit behind and met up with me almost immediatly. Margo and Youjia were super hikers and kicked Heather`s and my butt the whole hike. The rest of the day we continued downhill and the little bit of uphill until we got to our campsite. Needless to say, my legs were exhausted.
The last day, or the beginning of the last day was one of the toughest parts. We started uphill to get over the mountain, but as we got near to the top the switchbacks got extremely muddy and seemed to go on forever. I wanted to take a break through the whole thing, but knew I couldn`t stop or my muscles would get stiff. It felt amazing when we got over the mountain and all we had to do was the last flat part... although, we did make it a tad more difficult for ourselves because we missed the turnoff for a shortcut to get to the town so went the long way around.
The scenary through the whole thing was gorgeous and breathtaking. I almost cried twice it was so pretty. I took way too many pictures of it all in an attempt to never forget the beauty I had witnessed.
I had tons of blisters by the end of the trip. One of which is still healing and is one third the amount of my big toe. I'm actually kind of proud of it haha.
All the meals we had were great. Heather and I actually ate better than we do at our home in Cuzco.
After a day of rest from Choquequirao, Heather and I headed to Machu Picchu by train. We originally wanted to trek to Machu Picchu, but decided to save money by taking the train. We took Expedition, which was the cheapest train that was running. The train was nicer than we expected. We even got snacks! And anyone that knows Heather and me knows that snacks are very important to us :)
We got to Aguas Calientes and found a hostal for 25 soles a nice for the both of us. We decided to go to the hotsprings and hang out for a bit. The hot springs were more like luke warm (there was one hot pool that was full of people) and were a tad bit murky from all the hikers that hadn`t showered in 4 days haha. It was still nice though and it was hard to get out of them because of the cold rain that was pouring down. Due to the rain not stopping, Heather and I decided to eat in the restaurant attached to our hostal. Pizza was our fix for that night.
The next day we woke up at 4:30am to get to the bus station. We wanted to be some of the first 400 people who are allowed on Wayna Picchu. The day before, a very kind lady gave us round trip bus tickets for free. She simply said she didn`t need them anymore. It saved us $15, which doesn`t seem like that much, but it is to us travelers :) When we got to Machu Picchu it was still raining, the rain didn`t actually stop until probably one or two o`clock in the afternoon. Even in the rain, Machu Picchu is amazing. First, Heather and I hiked to the Incan bridge. It`s about a 30 minute hike from the main ruins. The bridge is actually a path the Incans built into the mountain. They carved this path one meter into the mountain with nothing, but ordinary tools. The bridge is this short section where tree stumps are set. Tourists can no longer walk over it because of a death that occured some years earlier. If the Incans were getting attacked from that side of the mountain, they would throw off the tree sumps so their enemies couldn`t pass the gap easily. They had a rock by the bridge that they would hide behind and attack their enemies. This is where Heather and I had a lovely breakfast hehe but don`t tell the officials of Machu Picchu because there isn`t any food allowed at Machu Picchu.
After the bridge, we headed up to Wayna Picchu, but sadly couldn`t see Machu Picchu from it do to the clouds and mist. Wayna Picchu was still really cool (you had to go through a tunnel made of rock, well more like squeeze through it) and definitely worth getting up early for. Once we were done with Wayna Picchu we headed to the Temple of the Moon and the Gran Cavern. You also need a Wayna Picchu stamp to see these ruins. The walk down to the temple and cavern took a lot longer than expected, but it was really cool once we got down there. In the temple, tourists from different times had left a pile of letters to the Incas admiring their work and such. The temple is also in a cave and so Heather and I were able to eat lunch in here and take shelter from the rain. It was definitely worth the walk to get there.
Once we got back to Machu Picchu, Heather and I wandered the ruins and got most of our information by listening to other group's guides in spanish and english. We had heard from some people that Choq was better than Machu Picchu, but I would have to disagree. If you had to choose between the two, definitely choose Machu Picchu. It was nice to be the only ones on Choq though. There isn`t a picture I have of Machu Picchu that doesn`t have tourists (or as Heather called them, fruitloops because they were all wearing different colored ponchos) in it.
Heather and I stayed at Machu Picchu until it closed (5pm). In our last few minutes there we watched the sunset over the ancient ruins. I wish I could travel back in time and see what the city was like in it's prime. I wish I could ask the people questions about there lives. What an amazing adventure that would be!
As we were leaving M.P. Heather and I got to interact with some llamas. I was petting them as they walked by (one terrified me because it's leg fell through the second level of a ancient house where it's food was so it almost tripped right into me). I must say the baby llamas fur (is that the right term?) was amazingly soft.
We spent that night in Aguas Calientes, too. We left the next morning by train and enjoyed a brunch at Heart's Cafe in Ollantaytambo. Heart's Cafe is a restaurant that supports various programs that the director runs. The idea is similiar to Aldea Yanapay, but Heart's only accepts profesionals who speak spanish. The programs they ran looked amazing and the food was spectacular. The man that was in charge of the cafe (his name has sadly slipped my mind) was extremely personable and even helped Heather and I get transportation back to Cuzco. I'd recommend Heart's Cafe to anyone who has a good appetite and wants good food!
At the end of March, Heather and I had the honor of welcoming Wenatcheeites to Cuzco and showing them around a bit. The Pauly family came to visit Cuzco. Chelan Pauly is currently on an exchange in Lima and so the rest of the family had come to visit her and travel in Peru. It was great having a little piece of home with us. They showed us immense generosity by including Heather and me in their meals and plans to see Incan ruins.
There first day in Cuzco, we took the Paulys up to San Blas, which is a very artsy area. It has an amazing view of Cuzco so after lunch, Chelan, Skye, Heather, and I walked up San Blas and explored. It's a beautiful spot with a lot of live music places and places where the famous artsy families of Cuzco show off their art.
On St. Patricks day we took Chelan and Skye to our favorite hang out spot, The Wild Rover, an Irish Pub and hostal. I've never seen people be so green (pun haha). We had a fun night dancing and meeting new people.
The day after, Heather and I were in for a treat by getting to go to Sacsaywuman (that totally isn't spelled right, sorry), Pisac, and Ollantaytambo with the Paulys. It was an extremely different experience than the first time Heather and I went to all these ruins. The ruins were covered in tourists when we first went, but when we were with the Paulys we had the ruins all to ourselves. The Paulys had rented a van and hired a guide to explain anything we wanted to know. He spoke to us in english and spanish as we all want to learn spanish more, but everyone is at a different level of learning. It was great. Heather and I got to know the ruins a lot better this time, because we were rushed for time with our agency when we first took a tour of the ruins. We even got to see a whole other part of Pisac. When we got to Ollantaytambo we had a fantastic dinner "family style," which is where we all order something different and then put it in the middle and share. It was a great way to try all the typical Peruvian foods. After dinner it was time to say goodbye to the Paulys until a few days later until they returned from Machu Picchu. After Machu Picchu, when they returned to Cuzco, we hung out all day until they had to catch their bus. It was sad saying goodbye. Having the Paulys with us was like having family here. I'm so glad they came and forever grateful to them for including Heather and me and making us feel like part of the family.
It has always been one of my dreams to run into someone I knew in a different country without planning it. When the Pauly`s were here it happened! We ran into a girl that I graduated with, Courtney Bratrud (not sure about the spelling of the last name, sorry), in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco! It was crazy and none of us could believe it. Now, my random dream has been fulfilled. Thanks Courtney :)
The Weekend After
The weekend after the Paulys left, we were able to take 2 of our roommates, Bonnie and Camille, to Tipon because the Paulys gave us their Boletos Touristicos. Tipon has beautiful Incan ruins that have water running through the canals that once spread water to the different terraces for agriculture. It also has a beautiful view of the valley below. Tipon is also famous for cuy... aka guinea pig. Everyone has said that if we want good cuy, go to Tipon. So after the Incan ruins, we headed to one of the many restaurants selling cuy... this one was recommended by our taxi driver. We ordered two cuy to share between the four of us. We waited in anticipation and I tried to mentally prepare myself for the look of what I was about to eat...it didn't help haha. The cuy came out stuffed with herbs and was pretty much the way it looks alive, but without hair. The waitress grinned at us cringing as she chopped off the head and split up the rest of the body for us. The meat honeslty wasn't my favorite. It could have been the herbs it was cooked with, but it had a weird texture and flavor. It was definitely not like chicken as people have said haha. We discovered that the best part of the cuy was the ear and the meat in the neck. The whole meal, it was just hard to look at the thing...it's teeth sticking out of it's wide open mouth and all. I would have to say it was definitely worth the experience though. I ate all my half of the meat and I'm glad I tried it....even though I probably wouldn't do it again hehe.
Getting home from Tipon was an adventure. I was pitch black outside and we had to stand on the side of the highway and wave down a bus as it went by. Just as we got to the unmarked pick up spot, two buses came by yelling "Cuzco, Cuzco, Cuzco!!" It only cost one sole to get back to Cuzco. There were luckily seats for us, because these buses usually cram as much poeple in them as possible. People even have to stand up in the aisles. The ride was definitely a little too bumpy for our stomachs that had never tried cuy before. When we got back to Cuzco we immediately had to get the taste out of our mouths and got some ice cream haha.
The day after the cuy experience Heather and I had the opportunity to join our friends Janek, Lucy, Janek's brother (his name is Rue, but I know that isn't how it's spelled), and Raquel to Tio Juans, an amazing barbeque restaurant outside of Saylla. I got a ton of food and different meat and had some chicha to wash it all down. It was amazing! It was good catching up with our friends, too. We hadn't had much contact with them since we had gotten kicked out of the project. After our HUGE meals, we played some volleyball. No one was very good and even the athletic people couldn't move properly because we were so full hahaha. It was quite hilarious actually.
The Fallen Angel (aka one of Francisco Pizarro's old houses in Cuzco)
Oh! I forgot to mention one of the craziest restaurants I have ever been in, The Fallen Angel. The night before we left to Choq all the girls in our house (Bonnie, Roisin, Grace, Camille, and us) got dressed up crazy to go to Fallen Angel. We were celebrating our last time together because one of our roommates was leaving. I can't even describe what Fallen Angel really looks like with words. The best way to describe it I guess is trippy haha. The tables are bathtubs that have fish in them. I sat on a heart shaped bed with heart shaped pillows all over it. The room we were in had fake flames for the ceiling and flying pigs everywhere. For the bathroom you had two options to go into, heaven or hell. It's a pretty magnificent place. We were even able to check out the 4 rooms you can stay in named strength, passion, power, and freedom. The rooms were beautiful, artsy, and modern, but also cost $270 U.S. a night. It definitely wasn't the cheapest place to eat at, but it was worth it. I drank a virgin daquiri and margarita (both delicious) as we waited for our angelic ravioli and chocoletier meat (Heather and I were sharing plates). The food was to die for, maybe that is why it's called The Fallen Angle? haha. The ravioli had this white wine, garlic, and andean cheese sauce that I could have eaten just plain and it would have made my night. The steak we ordered was covered in chocolate sauce with yellow peppers in it. It was good, but it wasn't my favorite. Heather loved it though. Overall, if you want to splurge on a good meal (it's no more expensive than a Red Robin) and don't mind some modern decorations, I'd recommend The Fallen Angel in a heartbeat.
Qoppa Zeta Omega (we ususally just say Qoppa Zeta O)
Qoppa Zeta O is what we have named our house aka soroirity. Hey you can't blame 6 girls for being creative hehe. Heather and I were looking at Greek letters trying to spell something like Cuzco and then decided to combine the modern way of spelling to the Quechua spelling of Qosqo. Therefore, our soroirity name came to be Qoppa Zeta O.
Elections for Peru's next persident is actually today, April 10th. Peru has very different rules for elections than the U.S. does. Every Peruvian must vote in their town where they were born (or living in if they get a new I.D.) and if they do not vote there than they will get fined. The amount of the fine depends on what social class they are in and how much money they make. Peruvians also can't drink the weekend before elections. So since Friday the bars and discotecas have been closed and the selling of alcohol has been prohibited. Foreigners can still drink though if they bought alcohol before they stopped selling it.
Saying Goodbye to Cuzco
As the end of staying in Cuzco, well and for that matter Peru, approaches, I am realizing how much I am actually going to miss this place. I`ll miss the constant Spanish, the kiss on the cheek greeting, the nightlife, the cobblestone streets of Cuzco, and the getting to walk everywhere instead of drive. So lately when I have been walking through the city, I have been looking at the buildings, the plazas, the markets, the colors, and about everything else wondering if I will ever return here. And if I do return, how much of it will have changed? Cuzco is beautiful in it`s own way. A lot of not so good things (bad seemed too harsh of a word) have happened to us here, but I will miss Cuzco. I did a lot of growing here.
This is Goodbye for Now
Starting Tuesday, I am going to be traveling so communication will be scarce. I will try and write in my journal so when I get home I can write one last blog entry about Peru. I love you all and think about you a lot.