Look at the cute skulls!
Man, this trip never ends! So I’ve been in Peru for a while now and I’ve pretty much just been hanging out with my dad. So we left on the 4th, leaving for the airport at 3:00AM and departing around 7:00AM. The cool thing was that my dad insisted that we fly first class. Hey, I wasn’t complaining. The cool thing about that was that you get to hang out in the first class lounge before you leave. You get coffee and CNN, and the paper and all that stuff. And clean bathrooms, which is a plus. We eventually took off and landed for our layover in Mexico where we were to stay for 3 hours. We had to get our passports stamped which entailed waiting in a massive line for an hour, but eventually, after lunch, made it to the lounge where I took it upon myself to take full advantage of the massive refrigerator full of beer, Coke, Red Bull, a full bar, and a coffee machine. I think my final toll came to 5 vodka Red Bulls, 2 beers, 4 coffees, 2 espressos, 1 Coke, 9 pastries, one bottle of water, and 2 rolls – but the fact that our plane was delayed 4 hours kind of helped. We were promised that they would put us up in a hotel and everything at the airport when we arrived because of the delay, but when we finally did arrive, they essentially told us to screw off. First class was pretty comfortable, but if it’s my money, I’m still gonna fly coach. The food is good, but you still can’t sleep – and while you’re staring at the seat in front of you for hours at a time, it doesn’t make much difference if the seat is leather or not. It was something cool to do, though. So anyways, we finally arrived, took a taxi to a hotel and slept. The next two days we explored Lima. I’ve been here before and all the memories came back. The smog, the strange colonial, paint chipped, dilapidated buildings, the tiny cars, the ocean. We ate in some nice restaurants and visited some churches while we were there, which I had already been to, but didn’t mind seeing again. The catacombs always fascinated me. So instead of burying people a few hundred years ago, the Spaniards just decided to take all the bones and clean them off. Then they would organize them in different piles according to the type of bone. Thigh bones here, skulls there, forearm bones there, you get the idea. It’s underground and all musty with lights added for effect and it’s all pretty spooky. The churches here aren’t nearly as impressive as those of Europe, but they are interesting nonetheless.
And so after a few days of hanging out in Lima, we headed up to Cusco. I really like Cusco – it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. The flight was only an hour and when we arrived, we grabbed our bags, hopped in a taxi and were whisked to the town center: La Plaza de Armas. I ordered my dad a coca leaf tea and headed out on the town to track us down a good hotel. I had strict orders to find a warm place with a soft bed. After checking out 5 or 6 places, I finally found one right in the square and we checked in. We spent a few days hanging out in Cusco after that, not doing much but walking around, checking out different restaurants and stuff like that. Cusco is great for doing nothing. You can finish a whole day and when it’s dark, stop and think, “…wait a second…what exactly did I do all day?” The plaza has tons of restaurants with balconies that you can just sit on and overlook the action. There are tons of things going on everywhere you look: little kids trying to shine your shoes and sell stuff to the tourists, restaurant touts trying to con people in for a bit, police strolling, parades, taxis and buses zipping round the huge roundabout, funny tourists just back from the Machu Picchu trek limping around, old brightly dressed ladies with babies on their backs begging for money, church bells ringing, firecrackers going off, locals sitting around doing nothing but laughing, etc…, etc… It’s all quite entertaining to see from above over a cup of mate de coca. We walked around and saw the Inca Walls, which are walls from the time of the Incas. The impressive thing about these walls is that they are just so expertly made. They have absolutely no mortar in between the blocks and each one fits incredibly precisely. They match perfectly, you can’t even fit a knife blade in between each crevice. They still don’t know how they did it, but there are theories about some sort of chemical used to melt the blocks, or something to that effect because apparently they didn’t have iron at their disposal to shape the blocks. And even if they did, it’s hard to imagine that they could chip bocks to be that precise. It really is something you just have to see.
Everything tourist related centers are the Plaza de Armas. It’s the main square that the Spanish built after they arrived in Peru. There are several churches and museums, a little central part with a fountain and benches, lots of restaurants and shops and tons of other things to see and do. There are lots of other plazas nearby and it’s really fun just to wander up and down the hilly, cobbled streets and see what there is to see. So I did that (my dad was too tired to keep up with me) and eventually we headed to Machu Picchu by train early in the morning. They have this pretty incredible system of getting up the mountains whereby which they go up one way, change the tracks and put the train in reverse and go up the next step, then change the tracks and go up the next step forward, and so on and so on in this zig zag way until they get to the top of the mountain. You go through the valleys and around the mountains like this for four hours until you arrive at Aguas Calientes, from which it’s only a 20 minute bus ride up a mountain to the ruins. We got checked into a hotel and headed immediately up to the ruins. The bus goes up this huge set of zig zags on a narrow dirt road until you arrive. We got there and after getting to the lookout, my dad and I split up and set up a meeting later on. My plan was to get to the lookout point that I had been cheated out of my first time at Machu Picchu. I walked the 4 day Inca Train the first time and when we finally arrived at sunrise to the point at which you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu – the point at which all your work is supposed to be paid off with an incredible view of these ancient ruins – the point at which you are supposed to be knocked on your ass with the shear beauty of the site……and all we saw was fog. Solid fog. One guy held up a postcard of what the view was supposed to look like and took a picture of that in front of the fog. The rest of us just walked through the rain down the mountain.
So it wasn’t raining and I wanted my view. I huffed up the mountain and soon enough, I arrived and got the view I had been missing for two years. It was great! The next thing I did was walk to the Inca Bridge around a different mountain. It’s cool because you can see the train wind up the cliff side and into the distance. You can’t walk on it because it’s overgrown and dangerous, but it’s pretty incredible that people actually had the guts to walk on it in the past. After that, I headed to the ruins to snap a lot of pictures. My first time through, I was running out of space and so I didn’t take many pictures. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again and so I took like 300. I went crazy! It was pretty incredible to wander through the ruins again though…all the feelings of amazement and wonder came right back to me. Although my pictures can’t express the incredible feel of this place, they do a pretty good job of capturing the scope of the ruins, I think. Like my dad said, you have no idea how big this place is until you try to walk around it. It looks small in the pictures, but it’s actually quite expansive. So after a few hours of that, we were pretty beat and we headed back down the mountain. Once we got back to our room, we both got on top of our beds and instantly passed out from exhaustion. An hour later, I got up and took a shower and we headed off in search of food. Aguas Calientes is actually quite an interesting town, too. It’s really small, but it’s got this really nice tourist road that stretches up the hill to some hot springs, a nice little plaza and in the center with a church and all, and friendly people. I took a stroll in the night and saw the locals all crowded at a little cement soccer court where little kids were kicking around the ball before the big kids came out and the game started. Everyone watched the game from stones on the ground, even the police, and I sat around for an hour or so and watched, too. I then wandered around the dirt roads and checked out the town outside of the tourist area. The thing that was interesting is that no one really stares at me like they do in Asia. They all just go about their business and ignore me, pretty much. That night, I met up with a guy I had met in the train station in Cusco and randomly bumped into in the town and we got some beers and played chess – during which time he beat me 3 times. I told him that I really like getting beat. You see, chess is something that I think I’m pretty good at, and when I get beat, it reminds me that I’m not as good as I thought I was. This can be applied to life too.
In the morning, we didn’t do much but sit around and wait for our train to leave. We bought a few gifts for people back home at the market and then headed back to Cusco. Coming on the train was pretty incredible because as you come down the mountain and into the town, you see the whole town all lit up. It’s breathtaking! And with that, we descended into the town, got dinner and went to bed. The next day, I checked my email and found out that my friend Ali was randomly coming to Peru to study Spanish and do some volunteer work. I knew that she would be doing some stuff in Asia or maybe South America, but I didn’t know when or where. And she didn’t even know I was in Peru. But it just so happened that she was flying into Cusco the same day I was to leave it! Man, what a crazy coincidence, but I haven’t seen her in a long time so I decided to stay in Peru for another week to hang out with her and her friend and changed my ticket and stuff to do so. So as it turns out, I’ll be here until the 26th which was the soonest I could change my ticket to. I’ll do some volunteer work here in Cusco in the meantime. So we pretty much did a whole lot of nothing in Cusco again, and yesterday headed back into Lima. My dad must have picked up a bug because he is pretty sick right now, and so it’s just a matter of hanging out until 8:00pm tonight when we go to the airport, I send my dad off at midnight and I roll out my sleeping bag and sleep beneath a table or chair at the airport while I wait for my flight back to Cusco which leaves at 5:50AM the next morning.
Man…what a crazy life I live…