Archive for April, 2011
Posted on April 30, 2011 by jason
So you just showed up and expected to go to Machu Picchu? Here are your options…
The Inca Trail is booked out way in advance, at about $550 USD each. Right now, it’s booked through August. You can’t do it without a certified guide and tour company. We weren’t going to do it anyway.
The Jungle Trail trek is a newer 4-5 day option and you can just show up and do it now. It’s cheaper than the Inca trail, but you don’t get to see the, uh, Inca Trail.
Both leave from Cusco.
There are many variations, so here goes…
There are two train companies: Inca Rail and Peru Rail.
The prices are all over the place, but you can get a train from Ollanta to Agua Calientes for as little as $31 USD. Of course, that’s what we did. I suspect you will pay far more if you reserve in advance. We had to wait around a few day to get the right trains and avoid paying more.
Note: kids are half-price!
You could also pay over $600 each way for the “Hiram Bingham” service that is literally run by the same people who run the Orient Express. It includes dinner, live music and dancing… for a 2 hour trip?
You can also leave from Cusco at a higher cost, but they may just bus you to Ollanta anyway. Go to Ollanta on your own and stay a while – it’s worth a stop.
If you’re a major cheapskate, you can get yourself to Santa Teresa by bus (6 hours from Cusco). Then, walk or combi to the hydroelectric dam (2 hours). Then, take a once-daily $10 USD train to Aguas Calientes.
If you are even cheaper than that, you can just walk the tracks from the dam (or even Ollanta) and try not to get hit by the train. We saw a guy doing this and he almost didn’t make it.
Getting up to the ruins:
You can hike up or take a bus.
Hiking is free, and about 2 hours uphill. You will weave on and off the bus route and suck diesel fumes the entire time, but to each their own.
The bus is $8 USD each way and a 20 minute ride. Eight bucks anywhere else in Peru will get you half-way across the country. Still, these buses are the most efficient thing I’ve seen here. They leave from top and bottom every 5 minutes.
Getting into the ruins:
First, you needed to buy a ticket back in Aguas Calientes (or Cusco) from the Cultural Center. It’s about $46 USD each and requires a passport. You will need your passport up at the park entrance too – don’t forget it. There are no tickets available at the park itself!
Note: kids under 7 are free!
There is a big sign at the entrance that clearly says “no plastic containers” (no water?), “no food,” and “no walking sticks” but this doesn’t stop anyone. The rangers will keep you off the grass, but don’t enforce any of the other rules. You will not be happy if you don’t bring water – there is none inside the gates (or restrooms)!
Unless you’re going to hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu (limited to 400 people daily), you can see the ruins in 3-4 hours (or less). Plan on spending the day with 3000 other people – it’s still fine.
Staying Aguas Calientes:
Don’t sweat it, there are an infinite number of rooms in every price range. The hot springs up the hill are about $3 USD and you’ll share them with all the sweaty hikers from earlier. Still, not a bad way to end the day.
Posted on April 29, 2011 by jason
After some logistical wrangling (more on this later), we hopped the Ollanta-Aguas Calientes train. Nice train.
Based on some other people’s descriptions, this town was supposed to be a tourist pit to be avoided. Aside from the fact that you can hardly avoid it to visit Machu Picchu, it really isn’t all that bad of a place. It’s no traditional Incan village, but what else would you expect?
You could spend $1000 a night on a hotel room here if you wanted, but we found one for $18 USD. There are fancy tourist trap restaurants, but there’s cheap chifa too. I hear that 3000 tourists a day come through here, so there’s something for everyone.
Up the hill from the town is another hot springs. Not a bad place to end up after a day’s hike.
Posted on April 28, 2011 by jason
The town is so hard to pronounce that even the locals just say Ollanta. We knew we’d find our friends Fred and Regine and the kids here, so we stopped on the way and bought a cake for Bode’s birthday.
With orange Jell-O on top, it was pretty disgusting for adult taste buds. The kids liked it. They smashed open the piñata (after the concept was explained in French) and spent the next couple of days playing. We even discovered the lawn game of sapo.
Angela and I spent the next few days trying to figure out how to see Machu Picchu without breaking the bank. We spoke to more than one traveler who decided to skip it because of the expense – ridiculous if you’ve already traveled all this way.
We also made our first attempt at drinking chicha -the local brew. We found the wrong chicharia and went in for a taste. It was horrible and tasted like yeast and water. This particular place made a tamer version diluted with juice and it was at least bearable, but still pretty bad. We will succeed.
Posted on April 27, 2011 by jason
For us, the most interesting thing about Cuzco was the camping spot. Camping LaLa is up the hill from the main plaza and only a few hundred meters from the ruins. It’s quite a walk up and down the hill, but worth it to have such a tranquil place.
It’s no secret. We pulled in to see some familiar faces from Arequipa. More travelers came and went while we were there – this is definitely the busiest overlander spot we’ve seen anywhere. The other travelers we meet continue to be exclusively Europeans.
All of the French travelers are families with kids – it’s simply de rigueur. More playmates for Bode and more chatting with proud moms and dads extolling the virtues of the French educational system.
One of the families we met were Belgian. They had been traveling for 4 years around the world in a huge 14 ton beast. Each tire cost more than our car. Another big rig like this had been stuck here for three weeks because of the rains – yet people in these things still brag how great they are and how they can “go anywhere”. Right – stuck in a muddy campsite. Even the narrow city streets of Cusco are off-limits.
Anyway, they were really nice and regaled us with their crazy stories from driving across Africa and Asia. More tempting adventures. Still, schooling three kids on the road may have been their biggest challenge.
Aside from the revolving new friends, there were revolving new pets as well. Every morning a local woman would bring her alpacas, llamas and sheep to graze around us. The chickens and dogs were permanent features and meant we had fresh eggs for breakfast every morning.
Bode wanted to catch a chicken, so we told him to go for it. He took off in a sprint. We thought he’d be busy all morning or wear himself out trying. Five minutes later we heard, “GOT ONE!” He walked up with a hen in his arms and the biggest smile on his face.
We ended up staying 5 nights here (almost caught up!) and hardly walked down to Cuzco the entire time – we didn’t even visit the ruins next door. There was plenty of entertainment right here.
If you’re thinking of camping above Cuzco, Camping LaLa is closing it’s doors at the end of this year. Hurry up!
Posted on April 26, 2011 by jason
After another chilly night in the bus, we started the day with a quick dip. A soak in a hot pool is a nice way to wake up, despite the griminess of these particular springs. This is definitely a local place, and we were joined by a few other folks who had the same idea.
The 3 hour drive up to Cuzco was scenic and interesting. Since we started early, we were able to see how the folks in the valley start their day. Walking the cows along the tracks, kids running to school, farmers tending the fields or hauling their harvest to markets. Not quite San Francisco.
Before long we were entering the outskirts of Cuzco. There’s a solid 10 km of sprawl along the southern entrance to the city, and it’s pretty lousy. Terrible roads, crazy drivers, ugly buildings. It’s not until you get right into the touristy colonial center that things start to look interesting.
But, this is one of the most visited cities in South America. A walk around the main plaza will get you hassled by touts hawking tours, restaurants, horse rides, etc. Walking a few blocks in either direction is the same. Every restaurant advertises pizza and every other shop sells packaged tours. I’ve heard this city described as ‘charming’ and I can’t disagree more.
The architecture is interesting – I’ll give it that. The contradiction of Spanish churches built on top of the ruins of Incan stone walls forces a little history lesson on you. If you can block out the touts, it’s worth a short walk and look around.
Posted on April 25, 2011 by angela
By 7:30am we had our wet clothes back on, we’d eaten breakfast and packed. There was still ice on the windshields of the cars outside. So, when a bus passed us heading back to Yanque we jumped on.
Soon the sun was warming us up and we were spotting condors from the bus. We’ve probably spotted a dozen or so over the past few days.
It was election day in Peru and every villager was heading to the polling places. We passed 2 on our bus ride and both had lines around the block. We’d been told that voting is required in Peru and when you vote you get some sort of mark on your identification card. They also don’t allow alcohol to be served for 2 days before the election. Elections are also on a Sunday – no doubt to allow the church some influence before people go off to vote.
We’ve been in Peru for a couple months now, and every remnant of brick wall space is painted over by one of the candidates. I wonder if they’ll repaint when the winner is declared?
Back at our bus, we made lunch and packed up. On the way out of town, we stopped at the police station in Chivay to get some driving advice. There are 2 roads to Cusco, “8” hours on dirt roads or 10 on a paved road. The 2 hours on dirt a couple days ago really shook me loose, but the paved road was back over the 4900 m pass. It was going to be a two day trip for us either way.
As you might imagine, Jason and I differed on what we thought would be best (or more fun, in Jason’s case) route. Hence, police intervention. So when asked this question, 3 policemen comically mimicked a bouncy road and told me to take the pista. They said we would destroy our car on the other road – Jason just rolled his eyes.
Back over not one, but two of our highest passes (4900 and 4500 meters). On the second pass, it started to snow a little. I looked out the window at the lagoons we were passing and spotted tons of… flamingos?! High-altitude cold weather flamingos? Who knew?
Flamingo, alpaca, llamas and vicuna and the scenery was stunning to boot. Lago Lagunillas was beautiful and completely undeveloped. I think there was one road down to a fishing pier that would have made a good boondock. We also saw a sign for hot springs near here. Still, we decided to forge ahead.
Then we got to Juliaca just north of Puno – a total dump – keep rolling. Jason was not thrilled that we had to drive nearly to Puno to go north to Cusco – and will later back-track this same route to Lake Titicaca. We’ve barely back-tracked a single road on this trip.
It was getting dark but we knew of a camping spot at a hot springs another 2 hours away. The last time we drove at night it nearly ended our marriage, not to mention our lives but since this highway was (for the most part) in better shape and less traveled than the Pan-Am we decided to go for it. Only buses on this stretch and it was pretty smooth sailing.
A couple hours later we found the aquas calientes and pulled into a dark parking lot. Jason knocked and yelled out but no one came. We started getting our dinner ready and eventually a guard came out and let us into the fenced yard of the hot springs. $0.75 USD entrance fee and the hot springs were open all night.
We made the easiest dinner possible – ramen noodles – and tried to keep the bus warm.
Back in Ecuador, our gasoline camp stove broke beyond repair (Jason had fixed it multiple times before, but this time it was a goner). We bought a fancy MSR gas stove from some fellow overlanders who had an extra. The problem is, I am terrified to use it, so Jason has to light it every time. He claims I just want him to cook (a somewhat justified claim, but this stove is scary). Tonight my apprehension was confirmed.
When Jason turned off the stove, the valve wasn’t working and the flame was still huge. He picked it up to adjust the valve but another flame lit from the leaking valve. He dropped it on the floor and had blown it out* before I could even open a bottle of water that was nearby. Really, it was a small thing and no big deal. But, when he lit that stove the next morning next to my head while I was sleeping, I was up like a flash.
*the fire extinguisher is behind the driver’s seat.
Posted on April 22, 2011 by angela
We were all a little sore the day after our hike down. Descending 1,300 meters in 3 hours will do that to you.Still, we did another short hike and checked out some of the immediate surroundings. Bode was more interested in swimming.
We decided against any long treks, so it was time to hire some mules for the ride up. Apparently the poor mules do this trek twice a day, and we were not inclined to leave on the first trip at 5am. So, we got to enjoy the oasis all afternoon. Fred and Regine handled all the logistics for hiring 3 mules and 1 donkey. The donkey carried our 2 backpacks and the mules carried us and the kids. Fred and Regine took turns walking up, they are far better hikers than we are!
Riding up was unstable at best, but the mule did their job and kept us safe. We had a guide and his mule with us, which was good because the mules liked to take a break anytime they could. He would yell, “muelle, muelle” and they’d finally get moving.
About 1/2 way up our 3 hour mule ride, the skies decided they couldn’t wait for the normal evening storm. It started slow, but the last hour the rain was pretty hard. We stopped once to put on our jackets, but quickly found out they were not as waterproof as we would like. Once we finally got back up the canyon and back into town it was a complete downpour, the streets were rivers and our shoes were holding water.
We decided to spend another night in a hostal since it was dark and we were wet and cold. A good wood-fired pizza might do the trick. Problem was, we only had the clothes on our backs, which were soaking wet and the temperature kept dropping.
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