Oh Beautiful Peru!

I recently traveled to Peru (December 2010) with my 2 travel mates, in hopes of visiting to Machu Picchu. The 3 of us decided to book the Inca Trail package through Intrepid Travel that included a 4 day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The 9 day package starts in Lima, with a quick tour in Miraflores and ends in Cusco, a city 2 hours away from Machu Picchu. We decided to add a day prior to the package and a day after the package, allowing us the flexibility to do a few more things. I am stoked to have visited Peru and booked through Intrepid Travel. Peru is truly a beautiful place with hardworking and amazing people and Intrepid Travel is a top notch tour company that is accommodating, flexible, and employs knowledgeable, friendly, and great staff!

We flew into Lima in the late evening and took a taxi to our hostel, the El Faro Inn. After researching online, shuttles seemed to be rarely used in Peru (except as a part of tour packages) and taxis seem to be the common form of transportation for travelers. We paid $30 (U.S. dollars) for our taxi ride to the the hostel and later learned that the fare should have been $20 (U.S. dollars) however, we weren't privy to that rate due to a lack of bargaining and our payment in U.S. dollars. It definitely is possible to be overcharged by taxis in Peru however, the upside is that there are no meters in the cabs and you can bargain with the drivers. Merchants and a various restaurants are also open to bargaining so practice your bargaining skills before you go!

Although I didn't take many photos of El Faro Inn, it was located in a nice area, clean, safe, and the staff was very pleasant. There was however, construction in the area and so it was a bit noisy, especially in the morning. The noise would be a common theme that I would soon learn. Many of the hostels have thin walls (the walls that weren't made of adobe) and fairly flimsy windows and doors thus allowing noise to travel. Bring your earplugs!

That evening, we talked late into the night and tried Cusquena beer that was provided by our hostel. Don't be afraid to drink the water or beers that are provided in the hostel fridges. Our beers costed $1 (U.S.) a bottle. MMMMmmmmmmm Cusquena!

Our plans for the following day were rather ambitious as we lined up: breakfast, Museo Larco, Plaza San Martin, El Cordano, Iglesia San Francisco, Parque Reserva Fountains, Restaurant Astrid and Gaston (by Gaston Accurio), and a local pena for some drinks. We ended up achieving: breakfast (only Del), Museo Larco and the Museo Larco restaurant, Iglesia San Francisco, Parque Reserva Fountains, and dinner at Mangos at Larco Mar.

Del was the only one who got a bite to eat at our hostel's kitchen and we started walking along the coastline to the Larco Mar shopping area. We passed through parks perched along the cliff, laden with exercise equipment, monuments, and interesting sights. Of course Del felt compelled to do some pull-ups to impress the local senoritas!

We finally arrived at Larco Mar shopping center and walked around. We exchanged our US dollars for Peruvian sols and quickly learned that dollar bills that have rips will not be accepted by any exchanging establishment. Some establishments wouldn't exchange bills that had markings on them such as pens marks and stamps and some establishments exchanged one dollar bills at an even lower rate. When traveling to Peru, bring crispy and new U.S. dollar bills in denominations of $20 and higher. I'm not certain if it was due to a declining exchange rate or because of distance from Lima however, I received less sols in exchange for U.S. dollars as we traveled farther from Lima. In Augas Calientes, a town 30 minutes away from Machu Picchu, the difference was about .08 soles.

After lolling around at Larco Mar we caught a cab over to Museo Larco in Miraflores. Museo Larco had an impressive display of Incan artifacts, a sex museum, and a delightful restaurant. The entry to the museum had an impressive array of flowers and orchids and after we completed the walk-through of the museum, we realized that there was a "back room" filled with what appeared to be an overflow of ceramic pieces.

Downstairs from Museo Larco, adjacent to the Museo Larco cafe was the awkward sex museum. I say awkward because hey, I love surfing A LOT but, I don't have a shrine, display, or anything dedicated to it (unless you consider the stack of surfing magazines that I keep next to my toilet =) ).

The food at the Museo Larco Cafe was divine. Thanks to Del for recommending it. I don't remember the names of all of the dishes but, do remember that it was my first taste of Coca Sour and my first Peruvian ceviche dish. That was THE BEST ceviche I have ever had and certainly, the Coca Sour was like music for my taste buds.

The next stop was Iglesia San Francisco, one of many Catholic churches in Peru. I'm not religious but will say that the churches in Peru were architecturally amazing, intricate in detail, and true testaments of faith.

Iglesia San Francisco is a functioning church where people go to pray and is also the residence of monks. For the rest of us tourists, it was an interesting (ok, it was creepy) museum of lower level tunnels and catacombs. I don't remember the exact number of humans who are (estimated to be) buried there but, I believe the number extends into the tens of thousands. On display, if you pay the nominal tour fee, are the actual bones that were found on the grounds of the church.

The next attraction was the Parque Reserva and we decided that in order to get the full effect of the lights and fountains, we should probably hit it up at night. So after our tour of Iglesia San Francisco, we had an hour or 2 before nightfall and we decided to walk a few blocks down towards the Plaza De Armas (Plaza of Arms) in Miraflores. As we would learn the following day from our Intrepid guide, Cecilia, many of the major cities in Peru (and in Latin America) have a Plaza De Armas constructed by the Conquistadors and the purpose was to provide a place of refuge and where arms could be supplied to the defenders.

When we arrived at the Plaza De Armas, we noticed a large crowd congregating around what appeared to be a parliament. We later found out that this was the changing of the guard. I am sensitive towards and understand cultural relativism but, this was definitely not a highlight of the trip. Although, if people gathered and applauded every time I came to and left from work, that would be cool. =)

This crosswalk reminded Del of the crosswalks of Shibuya, Japan and so he took a picture of it. It did get a little crazy. The cars and taxis all drove recklessly and used their horns A LOT (did I mention that they used their horns A LOT). It was almost as if the horn was a punctuation for their blinker, gas pedal, brake pedal, rolling down their windows, checking their mirrors (some cars were amputated of their mirrors and surely this must be from driving "offensively"), and of course the honk at the beuatiful seniorita on the side of the road. I joked that with every oil change, they must also replace their horns. After witnessing firsthand the aggressive driving of Peruvians, it was understandable that they walked in the same fashion - very close to you, bumping you in some cases, never paying mind if you were okay, and always on the go. No big deal to me, I thought of it as a fun experience!

Ahhhh... We finally made it to Parque Reserva to view the fountains and lights show. It was cold, many got wet (although they didn't have to go trudging through the water), and the lights and water displays were awesome! This also my first experience paying 1 sol to use the restrooms. As you walked in, there was an attendant who collected money and gave out receipts. The stalls were fairly clean although these toilets like many on the remainder of the trip had no toilet seats. Oh and as you walked in, if you forgot to take toilet paper from the single dispenser by the doorway, you were ____ out of luck! (No pun intended.)

We made our way back to the El Faro Inn and decided to get a bite to eat at Mangos restaurant at Larco Mar. I had my first "doble" Pisco Sour and hoooly crap, that had a kick to it! I was warned that using a credit card would incur an additional fee up to 19% at restaurants. On my receipt there was an I.G.V. tax of 19% however, the following day, I would incur the same charge whilst paying in Peruvian cash. At any rate, dinner for 3 (appetizers, entrees, and drinks) at Mangos would cost me a total of 160sol (roughly $55 U.S.) with I.G.V. tax and tip - not bad at all. Oh, and the food was delicious! Check out Mangos at the Larco Mar shopping center!

The following day (day 2 in Peru) I got out on a late start and headed towards Larco Mar once again to grab a bite to eat and exchange more money while Del took a bike tour around the city. I took the same route along the coastline, snapping more photos and when I arrived at Larco Mar, I had a sandwich and cappuccino for 28sol (roughly $10) at Cafe Cafe. In hindsight, I should have had the free breakfast at El Faro Inn - many of the hostels, including El Faro Inn, served fresh and warm pan (bread); fresh butter; fresh and local jams; freshly squeezed pineapple, papaya, mixed, and orange juices; and VERY strong coffee. If you're ever at a hostel in Peru that serves complimentary breakfast, take advantage of it! A few hostels served more dishes such as fresh fruits, hams, cheeses, soups, pancakes, scrambled eggs, toast, and more. My favorite was the pan - always warm and very tasty!

We met up with our Intrepid tour guide, Cecilia, and our fellow tour mates, most of who were from Australia and all who had met each other on a previous tour to the Galapagos Islands and the mainland of Ecuador. This was the first day of the Inca Trail package provided by Intrepid Travel. I was totally jealous to hear that they had back to back tours and after this Inca Trail package, some were moving on to more traveling in Colombia, Ecuador, and/or Argentina. The Aussies don't fool around when it comes to vacationing!

Cecilia explained to us the Lima-leg of the tour and proceeded to show us around Miraflores. We visited Miraflores the day before however, this time, we had an official guide who gave us insight into what the various buildings were and historic accounts of what happened throughout the years of Spanish "influence". Cecilia who was born and raised in Cusco was also formerly a Machu Picchu guide. She suggested that prior to and during the hike, we take deep breaths to allow our bodies enough oxygen, drink lots of water, apply generous amounts of sunscreen and bug repellent, and take our time during the hike. We later learned that her husband was an attorney in Lima, she had one daughter, and the reason for her relocation to Lima (from Cusco) was to provide a better future for her daughter.

The story behind this particular statue was that a generous donor donated money, specifically requesting that the woman have a depiction of fire on her head. Fire in Spanish is spelled "llama" and pronounced, "yama". Unfortunately, the animal, llama, is also pronounced, "yama", and she ended up with a South America pack animal perched atop her head. At least she didn't have a dozen pigeons raining down poop on her. =)

More of Miraflores...

I thought this balcony was rather nostalgic with its wall paper and old paintings. There were many balconies in Miraflores and I asked Cecilia if there was some sort of significance. She noted that she wasn't aware of any however, proceeded to tell us about the story of these balconies and the relation to a traditional dress/veil that women used to wear, manto y saya, that hid their bodies and faces except for one eye. She explained how nosy people used to peer into balconies and spread many aggravating rumors about individuals. This led to women wearing the manto y saya so that they could not be identified.

We stopped by a bar that was told to be 100 years old, to have a round of pisco sours, the consummate alcoholic drink of the trip. Of course the bartender hand squeezed some of the juices necessary to make the drink and it was deeeeeeeelicious.

We ended the evening with a LARGE dinner at Gaston Accurio's Tanta. By that time, our group had dwindled in number and we had eaten so much that no one had an appetite. But of course, in the spirit of traveling, trying new foods, and the hype of a world renown chef, we pushed on! After dinner, we returned to Lima and the El Faro Inn. Tomorrow would prove to be a long day with travel to Cusco by plane.

The following day, we hopped on a plane to Cusco (approximately 1 1/2 hours) and took a 15 minute cab ride to our hostel, Hostal San Isidro Labrador. It was a more expensive hostel with rates of $35 per person for multi-occupancy and $60 for single occupancy but, it is well worth it. Hostal San Isidro Labrador is a charming hostel with lots of character (cedar wood and adobe construction, old wooden doors with iron locks, and more); the staff was always friendly, helpful, accommodating, and understanding; and I always felt safe. The front door stays locked even with the front desk person there and at night, they lock up the hostel like nobody's business (you can get in by ringing the doorbell). The breakfast in the morning is complimentary and like other hostels, provides warm bread, scrambled eggs, and freshly squeezed juices.

One thing I did find amusing was the 1/2" crack between the door and door frame that allowed some cold air to peek through. I later thought to myself that if these people were really somehow distantly related to the Inca and/or the Peruvian natives who built elaborate stone structures with very low tolerances between each stone, how come they couldn't make a wooden door fit properly? =)

Once we settled in, our tour guide for Cusco, Wilfredo met up with us and showed us around the town. We sauntered the cobblestone streets, each of us starting to feel the effects of the increased elevation. For myself, I could tell that I was more winded that I should have been. As we walked about, I noticed a gal who was wearing traditional Peruvian attire and was accompanied by an alpaca. She asked if I wanted to snap a photo and as I did, she instantly asked for change. Wilfredo quickly mentioned that we would see many poverty-stricken people in Cusco and while we may have felt altruistic in giving them money, the city as a whole is attempting to curb begging. Yikes! Sorry, woman with alpaca!

We continued our walk around Cusco, stopping by the Palacio Arzobispal, where one can see one of the Inca's finest stone work, the 12-sided stone. There is a security guard who stands in front of the stone and they encourage not touching the stone or the rest of the wall. Don't be afraid however, to snap a photo or 2 if you don't mind the crowd!

We walked around Cusco for about an hour more before heading in for lunch at an Intrepid-approved restaurant that served the best fruit smoothies and alpaca steaks. We were allowed to go to the rooftop of the restaurant to snap some 360 degree views of Cusco. Once we were done with lunch, some of us went back to the hostel to rest while the remainder continued the walking tour with Wilfredo. Del mentioned that Wilfredo took the group to a market where poverty was more evident. He did say that it was a little depressing although I don't believe it a good idea to simply see one side (the touristy side) of any particular place.

For the rest of the day, we were free to wander the city, shop, and dine at the many restaurants of Cusco, most of which were located within 4 blocks of the Plaza De Armas. Del, Susan, Wilfredo, and I had dinner at another Intrepid-approved restaurant (or rather a restaurant Wilfredo was trying out to be a part of the Intrepid-approved list of restaurants). It was a hip restaurant that had a bar downstairs and the dining area upstairs. Later that evening the bartender demonstrated how to make pisco sours.

The following day, we had an early start as we made our way toward a town called Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a town 15 ~ 30 minutes away by bus, from the start of the Inca Trail. Intrepid's Inca Trail package is organized so that starting from Lima, one is slowly acclimated to the higher elevation. The plan was to stay one night in Ollantaytambo and the following morning, start our hike on the Inca Trail.

On the way to Ollantaytambo, we passed by a few towns, the first being Chincheros. Chincheros is a rural town that has seen a lot of development in the recent years. Wilfredo mentioned that an airport is scheduled to be constructed in a few years and therefore, real estate prices were increasing. He also pointed out an increasing number of new hostels, stores, and other tourist attractions that have appeared within the last 2 years. In the future, one may have a choice of flying in to Cusco or flying in to Chincheros prior to journeying to Machu Picchu.

In Chincheros, Wilfredo took us to an artisan's center and the ladies there were kind enough to explain how they gathered, spun, dyed, and weaved alpaca wool. After the alpaca wool is collected, it is cleaned via hot water. It is then spun into a yarn and dyed using the pigments provided by herbs, bugs, vegetation, and more. The ladies then weave the yarn into elaborate blankets, table runners, shawls, sweaters, and bags.

After having bought all of the sweaters, shawls, table runners, and other alpaca wool garments, we scurried down the road to another town where we met a gal who harvested her own cacao and made chocolate bars using nothing other than ground cacao beans, sugar, and the occasional peanuts.

We also went across the street to visit another woman who made pottery. She was nice enough to offer us some lunch and after having eaten commercialized meals from restaurants the entire time, it was nice to have a home cooked meal of soup, steamed veggies, a chicken patty, and corn.

Prior to lunch, she welcomed us into the kitchen and we were surprised to see the guinea pigs (known as cuy) running around the floor. We didn't have cuy as a part of our meal however, Susan who would later do a homestay with the family would have cuy for a few meals.

We had one last stop before reaching Ollantaytambo and that was at a bar that served Chicha or corn beer. Back in the day, Peruvians chewed corn sprouts and spit the resulting mash into a pot. This was then boiled, the resulting liquid was poured off, and left to ferment in a large pot for as long as a week. Today however, the ritual of chewing the corn and spitting it out has been replaced by a much more sanitary (IMHO) and probably less time consuming method of mashing the sprouted corn on a mortar and pestle made out of stone.

We tried 2 flavors of Chicha, one was the "regular" with no flavoring and the second was flavored with strawberries. I found the "regular" to taste like barf and the strawberry version tasted like a Strawberry Julius (of Orange Julius fame) but not as sweet. We were offered the chance to buy another glass of beer however, were reminded that alcohol and altitude (for those not used to the altitude) was a bad combination, resulting in nausea. The Chicha that we tried does not have a high alcohol content and so I imagine one would get very full (or sick from the taste) prior to being drunk.

After we got hammered (just kidding, no one got drunk) we played a round of throw-a-heavy-ass-gold-coin-into-the-mouth-of-a-gold-frog. I personally didn't play however, the other members of the group did and had a grand time! The goal was to get as many coins into the mouth of the frog or in other slots on the tabletop. Once all coins were thrown, a drawer below revealed the points that one was awarded. At the end of the night, the winner would receive a vat of barf beer and a guinea pig from the backroom. Just kidding, there were no prizes.

Aaaaaaaannnd finally we arrived at the town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo, a rural town, is roughly 20 minutes away from the Inca Trailhead and 1 1/2 ~ 2 hours away from Cusco. Within Ollantaytambo, one can find hostels, a Plaza De Armas, a train station where one can catch a train to Machu Picchu town (Augas Calientes), small stores and markets, artists selling their paintings, stray dogs, and Inca ruins, all within a 5 minute walk. Like Cusco, most of the roads were cobblestone. So ladies, you may want to reconsider bringing any footwear other than hiking or walking shoes. =)

In Ollantaytambo, I would estimate that the average temperature in the day was around 62 degrees and nighttime was rather chilly, in the high 50s. (Remember folks, I live in Hawaii.) The people in Ollantaytambo were overall very nice and accommodating and it was an overall safe atmosphere. Aside from the Incan ruins located very close by, there isn't much to do so if visiting Ollantaytambo, I would say stay a day or 2.

Our plan was to stay in Ollantaytambo to further acclimate to the higher altitudeand to start the hike the following morning, bright and early. Wilfredo took us around the town and showed us the various Inca sites from afar, spoke about the irrigation/sewage ditches built by the Incans, and informed us of the various stores where we would be able to purchase souvenirs. We checked into our hostel, another beautiful and safe hostel with tons of character and later that evening, we met up as a smaller group for supper.

I found this Peruvian traffic jam in Ollantaytambo amusing because they actually had a lot of room and yet, everyone decided to turn in a small area.

AAAAAaaaannnnddd, we're off! The following day we all woke up early to begin our hike. After having another wonderful and complimentary breakfast at our hostel, we jumped on a bus for a 20 minute ride. The road we traversed was unpaved and skinny. Often times, other tractors, vans, cars, and bulls had to yield to our bus and backup to allow us to pass. One bull jumped over a fence and into the way of the bus at which time, the bus driver hit the brakes, narrowly missing this great puller of the plow.

We finally arrived at our starting point and the porters got out first to organize their packs. I had no idea that we would have one porter per person and the large amount of gear they would each be carrying for us. The Intrepid porters are very hardworking, friendly, and respectful and deserve every centimos that you tip them! Tip well!

After gathering a few snacks that the porters provided for us, we walked over to the check-in station where we showed our passports and Inca Trail passes. The porters checked in at a station designated for them, to ensure that they also had current passes and their packs were within weight regulations. Wilbur, our Inca Trail tour guide, explained how a few years ago, the government regulated their pay (ensuring fair compensation) and the maximum amount of weight they are allowed to carry.

After receiving the "pass go" from the authorities, the next order at hand was to cross the Urubamba River via suspension bridge and head up the hill.

There were so many things to see along the trek that it was practically a sensory overload. There was the rushing Urubamba River that provided a significant obstacle for the Conquistadors and was an ally for the Incas. There were Incan aqueducts and ruins. There were many locals who traveled to and from their homes located deep within the trail, utilizing burrows and horses to carry heavy items. There were colorful butterflies and other intriguing insects that I have never seen before. Of course the mountains were simply majestic! Burrows sauntered the hillsides and sometimes in the middle of the path. There were cemeteries with plots all facing the east and so much more. The Inca Trail is an amazing hike!

Approximately 30 minutes prior to arriving at our lunch site, it began to rain. I donned my 3sol poncho and was able to escape the rain and keep my pack dry. Although after a few minutes, I began to sweat as if I were in a sauna and couldn't figure out whether wearing the poncho was a better idea than braving the rain. By this time however, the temperature had dropped and my hands were so cold that I decided to keep on my poncho. This next picture is me being a "tard". Thanks for the picture, Del.

Cold and wet, we finally arrived at the lunch rendezvous to a warm travelers' welcome of the porters who clapped and cheered as we marched by. They had already setup the tent for us and were cooking our (unbeknownst to us) fabulous meal! Earlier, Wilbur joked about ham sandwiches and dirty water. Majority of us was prepared to eat ham sandwiches although not the dirty water. To our surprise, we had baked chicken, stuffed avocados, rice, bean ceviche, juice, coca tea, and the water was clean! =) Bravo Intrepid!

While eating lunch, the sky cleared up and we had 30 minutes to digest and take in the scenery. Susan, being the jovial gal she is, found a few children to play with.

We continued our hike and it began to rain once again, this time 30 minutes from the camp grounds. Once again, we were greeted by the porters who had already set up the main tents, our sleeping tents, and began to cook dinner. Wilbur gathered everyone including the porters and cooks and we began our introductions. We were to state our names, what we did for a living, and if we were single. A great time was had by all and some more than others! ;) Soon after, we had an amazing dinner that included soup, baked trout, quiche, pasta, yaka, steamed veggies, and banana in a sweet soup with sprinkles for dessert.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the first day of the trek would also be my last day as I turned around and headed back towards Cusco. It would NOT however be the end of my trip and I would make it to Machu Picchu. When I returned to Cusco, Wilfredo, our first guide in Cusco told me to talk to John, a Californian who wasn't feeling well from the first day in Lima. He apparently had taken some medication and was feeling up to visiting Machu Picchu. He explained how Wilfredo had helped him plan transportation via taxi, train, and bus and accomodations in Augas Calientes so that he could meet up with the group at Machu Picchu. Wilfredo said that this option was also open to me and I decided it was worth a shot. John and I headed down to the train station to purchase tickets from Ollantaytambo to Augas Calientes and after I headed to my new hostel, Hostal Eureka.

I can't say enough about the hostels during our stay in Peru. The folks at Hostal Eureka were accommodating, friendly, helpful, and offered me a room that was normally $50 (U.S.) a night, for $35 (U.S.). The hostel was clean, safe, smelled of cedar, and cozy. In the morning (no surprise!), I had fresh bread, fresh butter and jam, a variety of cheeses and ham, freshly squeezed juices, and the strongest coffee eevvvaaaaarrr. When you ask for coffee at a Peruvian hostel, you normally receive a small cup of VERY dark coffee and a pitcher of hot water to dilute it. In Lima, at the El Faro Inn, I wasn't aware of the "program" and drank the undiluted coffee straight from the cup. THAT was gnarly!

The following day, I walked from Hostal Eureka to the San Isidro Labrador hostel, taking in the sights of Cusco, once again. It was during this walk that I noticed more of the marketplaces that were located in obscure courtyards. I know I mentioned this before - when in Cusco, don't be afraid to look in open doors. There are many vendors that aren't located or advertise on the streets. I met up with John and we hopped in a cab that would soon take us to Ollantaytambo. After a 1 1/2 hour drive, we arrived at Ollantaytambo, had a beer, and within the hour, were on the train, en route to Augas Calientes. On the train, we were surprised to see Lochy and Alison. I thought they were still hiking however, they turned back on the 2nd day due to altitude sickness. I felt bad for them knowing that anyone of us could have succumbed to the altitude, even in the best of health. At any rate, I was stoked to see them!

We arrived at Augas Calientes to a large crowd at the train station. Many of these individuals were advertising rooms at their hostels. Knowing that we had a hostel lined up for us, we walked down the street to the Machu Picchu Hostal, yet another safe, tourist-friendly, accommodating, and cozy hostel.

Augas Calientes is however, an expensive town. John advised that I purchase a large bottle of water in Cusco. I bought a bottle in Cusco that was 2.5 liters, for 3.5sol (a little over $1 U.S.). In Augas Calientes, they were selling 12 ounce bottles for the same price. The exchange rate was 2.7sol to a dollar whereas a few days ago in Lima, I received 2.79sol for a U.S. dollar. I tried to exchange $1 bills. One store would not exchange $1 bills and another offered me an even lower rate. Aside from that, Augas Calientes is a beautiful town with a lot of character and MANY pizzerias.

That evening, we stumbled upon a restaurant that served up cuy (guinea pig). Lochy, Alison, and John knew that I wanted to try cuy and so they agreed to try (other dishes at) this restaurant. I attempted a few restaurants in Cusco the evening prior however, one restaurant explained that I needed reservations 2 days in advance, specifically for baked cuy and another explained that baked cuy requires 3 hours to prepare. I really wanted to try the baked cuy over fried cuy, thinking that the flavor of the meat would not be masked by oil. As a last resort, I opted to try the fried cuy at this restaurant and as I suspected, it tasted like fried chicken. In addition to my disappointment in the flavor, cuy is a very skinny animal and had very little meat. I am however, glad to have tried it!

Alas, the following day we woke up early to have our complimentary breakfast and board a 7AM bus that would take us to Machu Picchu. The bus ride was approximately 30 minutes and I was anxious to see everyone who had continued and completed the hike. None of them knew that Lochy, Alison, John, or I were going to Machu Picchu and so we were all elated when at 8AM, after they crested the hill through the Sun Gate, we met up with them. It was like a homecoming and I was stoked to see my new friends from the tour!

From there, the group made their way to the front desk to check in and we gathered at 9 so that Wilbur could start the tour of Machu Picchu. It was very cold and overcast in the early morning and I was worried that I would not be afforded the opportunity to take some clear photos. Luckily in an hour or so, it cleared up and the sun came out. How appropriate in that Machu Picchu was a location dedicated to worshiping the sun!

After a few hours at Machu Picchu, we were instructed to meet back at Augas Calientes where we would have lunch and make our way back to Cusco. On our way back to Cusco, I started feeling exhausted and suspected a cold coming on. By the time I arrived at the San Isidro Labrador hostel, I had the shivers and as luck would have it, I would not make the white water rafting we planned for the following day. Luckily, this was to be the last day of the Inca Trail package and near the end of our trip. There were 2 others who weren't feeling well from the beginning of the trip and I felt really bad for them.

And on the upside, my friends Del, Andrea, and Eliza, however had a great time whitewater rafting. Thanks for the photo, Del! People of the intraweb, please note that if you are ever in a sinking ship or raft with these individuals, use caution as they don't seem to know that the paddles are supposed to be in the water. =)

That evening, we had massages at Andina Spa and dinner at Baco. The following morning we saw a few of our friends shopping and hanging out at the hostel and after few farewells, we were off to the airport, homebound. Thanks for the photo of you and Tori, Del!

Last night, Del and I were at the bar having a few beers, sharing a few stories about the trip, and having a few good laughs. He asked me, "What was the most memorable thing about the trip?" I had to say the new friends we made. Yes, Peru was marvelous and Machu Picchu was insane! However, meeting the people we met, joking around with them, and sharing stories was definitely the highlight for me. Del felt the same way. I don't know if you guys will get to see or endure this blog, Sue, Geoff, Susan, John, Ben, Tori, Lochy, Alison, Andrea, Eliza, Soraya, Cecilia, Wilfredo, Wilbur, and Carlos but, thank you very much for making it a fun trip and thanks to Intrepid Travel for wonderful staff and a well put together package!


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