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Our last day in Cuzco was the day of the national census. To our astonishment, everything was closed. We had planned to get a bus to Maras, a taxi to Moray and then a bus back to Chinchero for the Sunday market. With no buses running, we ended up convincing a lovely taxi driver named Juan to take us all the way (it's about an hour and a half drive) for 50 soles (a regular taxi trip in town is about 3).

As we drive out of the city, we end up in breathtakingly beautiful countryside. Juan tells us that his pueblo is nearby and we stop with a friend of his for a jack. The mountains ahead of us are covered in snow. The day is crisp and clear.

When we get to Moray, it's amazing. We've seen so many ruins, but this is entirely different. This was the Incan agricultural lab — rings of terracing with a 30 meter drop from top to bottom but with a more than 15 degree drop Celsius. The Incas used it to test what crops could be grown at what altitudes. We are standing in a 600-year old scientific laboratory and it's an awesome concept.

Chinchero turns out to be a lovely village which would be quiet and serene if it wasn't for the clamor and push of the market folks demanding we look at their items instead of someone else's. We buy various gifts for various friends and family.

Then it's back to Cuzco, an early night for a plane at 7.15am, the day in Lima, first at the art gallery (excellent) and then more trinket shopping. Last stop, the bones of the Spaniard invaders under the church, just to fill in time, then a midnight flight back to the US.

All in all, a wonderful, wonderful honeymoon, and one we'll remember for a very long time.

PS: [personal profile] qamar and [profile] aethyrflux: Check out this stuff on quantum physics and consciousness. I think you'll appreciate.
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Everything they say is true. Aguas Calientes is a tacky tourist town; the entire train trip there and prices in town are outrageous with discriminatory pricing for tourists and it's all worth it.

On the first day, we got onto the bus and clutched each other throughout the heart-stopping bus ride, conscious of promises to [profile] _snowrose_ to "be careful" after news of a bus going over a precipice in Central Peru (how are we supposed to be careful? We're not driving!) At the top, we climb above the ruins and it's magnificent, spread out beneath us.

We stop on one of the ancient agricultural terraces and swing our legs over the stones. We hold hands and murmur softly in the bright blue day. Eventually we walk down into the town, the residences, the temple of the sun, the green, green grass of the square. We see llamas grazing on the sides, and so many swallows and a grand bird of prey gliding down with outstretched wings. As the light fades, we see a chinchilla, sweet and small with a long fluffy tail.

We catch the last bus down and then go to meet Aussie glassblowers we met on the train at a French Peruvian café called Indio Feliz that serves excellent wine and a set menu for an outrageous 40 soles (around $13). We have divine rainbow trout and ginger chicken and perfect vegetables and incredible desserts.

Next day we are up at 4am and on the first bus up the mountain. Today the plan is to climb Waynu Picchu, the peak behind Machu Picchu. We make it to the top in an hour and a half, only to find that the temple of the moon is actually a perilous climb halfway down the north face of the mountain using ladders and ropes where the Incan stairways have collapsed. It is, however, beautiful. The vistas, the forest, the sky. All of it.

At times, returning to Machu Picchu, we are exhausted and in pain and feel we can't go on, but eventually we make it back, five hours of walking under our belts, and pay through the nose for a fairly extravagant and extensive buffet. I go back in to look at the Intihuatana and the Temple of the Condor while Doug sits out his pain and then we go back down on the crazy bus. I drag the poor guy up the (comparatively gentle) hill to the hot water baths that the Aguas Calientes town is named after and we soak for a little before our train back to Cuzco. We need it. We're not exactly in shape.
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We ended up treating the name of this town like a tongue-twister: Ollantaytambo, ollantaytambo. It's the "y" of the "olla", you see. Very hard to get around.

But we made it to Ollantaytambo on the morning bus out of Pisac and found Hostal Ollanta without a problem. (Ollanta, it seems, was the Inca warrior the town was named after.) This time the ruins were right above the town, the main square had a fountain and the roads were cobbled. Ollantaytambo has the distinction of being the best surviving example of Incan architecture and city planning. Its streets have been continuously inhabited for 700 years.

Done with the ruins by 3pm, we went back to the hotel and read for the afternoon, delighting in quiet time and conserving our energy for the big adventure planned for the next day. We ventured out again, hoping to have a good time at the Quechua Blues Bar but it turned out to be atrocious. After the awful dinner and music, we started back in the rain and discovered a live band playing pan pipes and drums, so we stopped in for yummy chocolate caliente con rum.

An early night with plans for a crazy 5am start...
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Pisac was lovely. A tiny town of only 2000 souls, the main square was entirely taken up by a colorful market selling everything from jewelry to backpacks and more. It started to pour so we bought some raingear from the nearby gear shop and I bought an alpaca wool backpack from a man wearing camposino traditional clothing. I imagine he or his family wove the bag themselves. So often when we asked about where an item came from, we were buying it from the person who made it or their sister.

In the afternoon, as the sun came out, we went to walk up the mountain to las ruinas but a man we had bought a wall hanging from asked us where we were going and told us it was too far to walk. He said we needed to get a taxi from near the bridge back through the town, but then a woman from the next stall said, “Taxi?” and he explained what we wanted and she said her husband drove a taxi. They knocked on the door of the house we were in front of, and a guy came out. They asked him about the taxi, he named a price, we bartered down a bit because we only wanted a lift up not there and back and we walked 100 meters to his cab and were on our way.

As we wound our way around about 20 switchbacks we started to understand and appreciate the kindness of our stallholder. The ruins are at around 3200 meters above sea level and we were starting in the Sacred Valley, right at the river floor. They are stunning feats of architecture: terracing down the mountainside for agriculture, enormous stones dragged into position for housing and a temple of the sun, tunnels in the mountainside. After climbing one very steep staircase and coming over a hill, we encountered an incredible astronomical observatory, doorways carefully placed at 15 degree angles to withstand earthquakes and stones placed with amazing precision.
As we were marvelling at the Incan ingenuity, a schoolboy came up the hill from Pisac. “Hola,” he said. “Hola,” I responded. And still in Spanish, “Do you live up here?” “Yes, but higher.” “Is it good?” “Yes.”

He kept going. We soon encountered another. The same conversation, but then “How many people live up there?” “In my village? 200.” “And do you walk up this hill every day?” “Yes, every day I go down and I return.” (This is a 4km walk he’s talking about!) “Do you like it here?” “Yes. Don’t you?” “Yes, but I’m fom Australia and I live near the sea. This is very high for me.” “Ah,” he says. “Do you know much about this place?” “A little,” I say. “I know that this is the temple of the sun and I think it was built around the 15th century.” “Could be,” he says. “And I think that building there is older.” “Yes,” he says. “I think it’s from around the 12th century.” “Could be,” he says. “Well, have a good day,” I say. “Ciao!” and he’s off, climbing the way we came.

We wend our way down the mountain, another hour or so down. The sun sets by the time we get to the bottom and we are happy and tired. This is bliss. We definitely feel like we are on a honeymoon adventure now. We have learnt how to say we are newlyweds in Spanish and that this is our “luna de miel” and we are starting to get “felicitations!” from the locals. A man in traditional dress at Sacsayhuaman sold us beads for our hair and wished us many children.

Back in Pisac we want a drink for our tired muscles and I suggest we investigate Mullu, an alternative café recommended by our Lonely Planet bible. It turns out to be awesome, playing chillout music and serving the most amazing alpaca ribs in berry and red wine sauce with mash and alpaca ravioli with passionfruit dressing for Doug. I had mandarine and lime juice with ginger and honey -- mmm!

And then we went back to our gorgeous little hostel and snuggled in for the night, ready to wake early and catch the bus to Ollantaytambo. A wonderful, wonderful day.


Oct. 17th, 2007 12:09 pm
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Back to paying for Internet. Ah well. At least this place has a computer advanced enough to cope with the thumb drive containing the images but I don't have time to arrange prettily. You'll just have to go see for yourself.

We spent a lovely day yesterday wandering around the ruins near Cuzco and will write more when I get a moment. We are now in lovely Pisac and I don't really want to be indoors but it's raining out. I think we'll go investigate the markets. They're kind of undercover. 
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Thanks to the amazingly dry air of Cuzco, my lovely Mnemosyne has dried out and is functioning again. However I cannot yet show you photos because the hostel's PC is running Windows 98 and it refuses to recognise the thumb drive. Bah.

Cuzco is delightful and reminds me a little of Toledo but with more tourists and touts. Mum will be horrified to hear that I ate roast cuy (guinea pig) and they served it whole. It was delicious but did remind me a little too much of poor Timmy and Susie and Tammy and all my other pets I had as a child (I bred them and kept genetic charts at one point). I also had alpaca tonight. The food here has been incredible. Delightful and subtle spices.

We also found some incredible art and wonderful ceramics and things. I have bought a little something for my sister's son -- I know she loves alpacas and llamas so I hope she likes it.

Tomorrow we're doing the four main tourist ruins around Cuzco and staying in Pisac tomorrow night. Again, I have no idea when I'll next update. Could be tomorrow, could be next Sunday when we are back here.

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One of the first Australian films I ever showed Doug was The Old Man who Read Love Stories, Rolf de Heer's divine piece about the Amazon jungle with Richard Dreyfus as an old man learning to read. He has this beautiful latino accent as he reads these trashy love stories and then they go out into the jungle to hunt a jaguar.

Getting up at four in the morning to walk five kilometers to see giant otters felt a little like we were in the film. Our guide spoke halting English with a Puerto Maldonado accent. The walk was brisk and the otters obliged by poking their heads out of the water and playing about 400 meters from us. On the way back, we walked more slowly and saw enormous Morpho butterflies, blue and heavenly, laughing around us. We saw green creatures and frogs and bright red and yellow flowers. We saw strangler figs and enormous walking palms and the "malaria tree" whose bark apparently cures malaria and "cat's claw" which is being researched for AIDS. It really is the pharmacy of the world.

We heard the howler monkeys and saw dusky titi monkeys and then after lunch we saw tiny little tamarin monkeys. We have so many gorgeous photos.

Then we had a nap! Whee! And then walked to sunset point to watch the sunset. Back to the lodge for a quick talk on caimans (they lay ping-pong ball eggs and the temperature of the soil they're in determines the gender of the young just like turtles), out into a boat, saw a smallish black caiman (1.5m) and then within ten minutes, the sky opened and water fell out in a torrential downpour unlike anything we'd ever seen. Back to the lodge swiftly for dinner to find the rain had flushed out a baby red-tailed boa constrictor and the cook had picked it up. I got to hold it... it was beautiful!

Then to bed again and this morning, the boat trip back, still in torrential rain (it is a rainforest after all) and now we're in Cuzco, in a gorgeous little inn called Pampa Wasi high on the hillside overlooking the town, with a little yellow room, hot water (!!!) and Internet (as you can see). We also have altitude sickness (which we knew would happen) so we've rested all afternoon, downloaded images from the camera to Doug's special hard drive, watched my laptop die due to getting a little damp (I'm guessing during the transfer from the airport onto the plane) and drunk coca leaf tea for the altitude sickness (it really works!).

And now I'm going to go and join Doug at the bar up the road before he drinks all the drinks. Love to all, updates as they come.

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I can understand why Paddington Bear needed a duffle coat in England if he was used to the heat of the Amazon. We stepped off the plane and instantly felt the muggy love.

The boat ride to Explorer's inn was already amazing. We saw turtles on the Tambopata river bank and macaws and other wonderful things. I'd be uploading photos right now except that my computer decided to die about an hour ago, possibly due to getting wet, but that story comes later.

Walking from the boat to the lodge we saw a family of red howler monkeys overhead, which was just incredible. They had a little baby with them too.

After sunset, we went for a night walk (mmm, DEET) and listened to the sounds of the jungle and saw a tarantula and heard wonderful local ghost stories from our guide, Milthon. We were glad of our yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations. The number of insects out there is intense!

We ate and then went to bed around 9.30pm, exhausted from our early start and with news from Milthon that we had to be up at 4am to walk 5km to the lake. Eep!

Las ruinas

Oct. 11th, 2007 08:38 pm
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Finally got to Pachacamac, the Inca ruins south of Lima. Quite incredible. We wandered around for a while wondering why they had built their huge temples and city here when we went up inside the Templo del Sol and over it and suddenly could see the entire Pacific Ocean and survey the green farmlands beneath us. Suddenly, it all made sense.

The bus ride to Pachacamac was pretty confronting: shanty towns all up the hillside that look like brightly colored shipping containers hung with drying clothes and blaring radios; workers in wretched streets with welders and building cars right there in roadside workshops; children resting tired heads against carts overflowing with vegetables they´re trying to sell. We had a pretty heated discussion about our role as tourists in a country this abject -- much worse than Russia as I saw it in 2003 -- and in what could actually be done in a meaningful sense even by the populace themselves. 

We´re pretty tired but in the end had a great day and we´re off early tomorrow morning to catch a flight to Puerto Maldonado and the Amazonian retreat called Explorer´s Inn.

We´ll see if I can update from there. Otherwise, I´ll tell you more when we hit Cuzco. Love and stuff!


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