A Travellerspoint blog

Star-gazing from the bus

sunny 24 °C

Class finally finished today. Now I just have to digest all I've learned for the last week and try to actually form a sentence when I speak instead of spitting out vocabs. It'll take a lot of practice.

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After school, I decided to go back to the local market a few blocks away and took some photos for my blog. In Cusco, where the proportions of tourists always rifle that of locals, you need to pay for your photos most of the time if the subject notices you. This has become quite annoying because of the materialist nature of these locals.

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My time in Cusco is ticking. My curiosity had urged me to take a local bus to Salinas and Moray. Salinas has thousands of salt pans that had been used to extraction since Inca times. A hot spring at the top of the valley discharges a small stream of heavily salt-laden water which is diverted into these salt pans. During the drive, my taxi driver, a very nice man who lives in a nearby village, Maras, explained to me that ex-president Futomori gave the salt pans to the Japanese. I'm sure if this is still true. My spanish had made me more confidence when I communicate but understanding is still a problem sometime. In Moray, there is a impressive deep amphitheatre-like terraces that are carved into a hugh bowl with each layer having its own microclimate. It was used by the Inca to experiment agriculture methods.

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The local bus going back to Cusco is an adventure by itself. Since it was coming from Urabamba, the bus was already full when it got to Moray. I squeezed in anyway hoping to get back to town before dark. Little that I know the bus driver had decided to give me a special cushioned seat next to him and two other guys right in front of the bus. I returned the favor by giving him some corn snack. A woman dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing boarded the bus a little later and put her bag of live chicken behind me. For the rest of the trip, the lovely chicken struggled to escape and kept poking my back. In a way, I cared less because the sky was getting dark and the stars were shining as bright as they can be. I stared out the windshield for a good half hour wondering what constellation it is in the dark sky with peruvian music playing in the background.

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My last night in Cusco was spent in Mandela's Bar, a lounge and live music spot that attracts more outcasts with treads than regular customers. Me, my classmates and their host family spent the rest of the night talking in broken spanish about the world.

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Saturday morning, I went to Ollamtaytambo by myself hoping to do some last-minute ruins touring. Ollamtaytambo, a fortress with steep terraces was used by Marco Tupac after his defeat at Sacsayhuaman in 1530s. The village itself is very serene when the tour buses are not trying to take over the narrow streets. The ruins are equally impressive, different from Machu Picchu. However, being a bit under the weather again, I could not fully appreciate the magnitude of this fortress. I took an early bus back and said goodbye to my favorite travel agent, Gladys and her baby.

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More pictures here:
http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/shinenyc/

Posted by shinenyc 18:28 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Life in Cusco

semi-overcast 17 °C

Back to school life is not exactly as fun as I expect. I had moved to a host family which is located about 25 min. walk from the school. My host mom, Yuni, and her daughter, Wendy, are really nice except that Yuni happened to be the very religious type with pictures of Jesus and statues at various places in the house. Honestly I am not very used to saying hi to Jesus every corner I turn in the house. Luckily, my spacious bedroom and comfortable bed made up for this. Wendy had been taking English classes at the same school I'm taking Spanish so we get along just fine.

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The classes are quite intense even for absolute beginners. By the third day of classes, Beni had taught us no less than 2 millions new vocabulary and how to construct sentence with present tense. However, the cirriculum does not focus on conversational spanish for travelling which is what I'm looking for. Well, at least I can carry out and understand conversations a bit better now.

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San Blas, Cusco's Soho is an artist heaven filled with galleries, cafes, and lounges up on the hill above downtown Cusco. Me and my two new Kiwi girlfriends, Nicki and Kate, went into 'The Muse', a cosi cafe and got invited to a party benefiting Pervian kids. Apparently, the guy who organized this party got his credit card code copied while using it at an ATM at Plaza de Armes and lost over $1000, so he claimed. So we all chipped in 2 soles ($0.60) for him to organize this trip for some Pervian kids.

Anyway, I have been restaining myself from going into any clubs that resemble anything on MTV and trying to stay true to the 'poor backpacker style'. With this mentality, I went into 'Mythology' and almost immediately feeling suffocated by the Spring Break crowds and the cigarettes smell. I took a seat right in front of the salsa teachers. Watching them move along the music is the only reason I stayed for as long as I can take. An overweight american woman (blonde) in her 30s dressed in a slimmy tank top introduced herself to me as a New Jersey local living in Hoboken and then went on critizing everyone's outfit and how she couldn't find any hair salon in central and south america for her highlight. I felt like killing myself if I had to listen to her for another minute. The first chance I got, I sneaked out the club and took a taxi home. The whole experience had just about destroyed my impression of Cusco as a spiritual city. I wish I can erase it from my memory.

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After the horrible experience from the night before, I've decided to escape from the city by going to Sassayhuaman again with Jeff and Fiona, two New Zealanders from the Inca trail. Afterwards, we stopped by the local market with all types of clothes, food, fruits, spices including hundreds of different types of papa (potatos) and maize (corn). Fiona and Jeff is heading off to Copacabana tonight, the same route I'll be taking in two days.

Posted by shinenyc 19:04 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Never easy to say farewell

rain 12 °C

It's never easy to say farewell but I managed to hide my mixed feelings to my friends in the morning when they are heading to airport for Lima. Now I have all the freedom that I want all of a sudden. I think I need a little time to get used to it.

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Still recovering from my congestion, I went to a few museums in town including the Inka museum, the Santa Catalina Convent and one of the most facinating sight but also very touristy Qoricancha at Santa Domingo. Once the centre of the inca society, the spanish had melted down tons of silver and gold during occupation. Now what left at this site is the bottom portion containing a 6m high inca wall with perfect stone alignment and a baroque-styled columns and roof, not quite in perfect harmony in architectural sense I must say.

Saturday night I moved from Hostel Recoleta to Hostel Tahuantinsuyo just two blocks up and spent the night updating my blog. Afterwards, I had dinner at the Witch Garden, another lounge with great music, in San Blas, a upcoming artist district.

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Sunday morning, I met up with the Canadian family from the Inca Trail to take a local bus to the Pisac market. An hour and a half bus ride for $0.60 (2 soles)! My first impression of this little town is the wonderful colors displayed by all kinds of goods, clothings, food and sovernoirs. The town literally comes alive on Sundays when locals and tourists flushed in from everywhere. Bargaining is never my strong skill but I did manage to purchase a warm llama sweater for only 28 soles ($9) with a little help from Wayne, my Canadian friend, who had himself bought about 200 necklaces and finger puppets for his marina store in Banff. Temptation was definitely there for shopping but I had to hold off so my backpack won't gain too much weight.

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Back to Cuzco, we all went to have lunch at an upscale restaurant which make you feel more like dining in Tuscany than Cuzco with its view. Around 7pm, people from my language school transferred me from my hostel to a host family's house with Yuni and her daughter Wendy.
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After the transfer, I joined the canadian family again for dinner and another farewell at La Retana.

Posted by shinenyc 15:50 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

'I SURVIVED THE INCA TRAIL'

Without a walking stick and minimal muscle pain!!!!!

overcast 16 °C

http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/shinenyc/Tuesday morning at 6:15am, I was half-awaked and picked up by Tucan's bus already filled with all our porters for the trail. An hour or so later, we stopped at Ollantatambo for a quick refreshment and last-minute shopping. On our way to the trail checkpoint, smoke started coming out of our bus. We got off and waited around the river bank for a while before hopping onto another bus for the last stretch.

The trek started at the km82 at River Umbambra after all our passports were checked by the guards. Our groups consist of a canadian family, a new-zealand couple, Chris, Ofri and me. Jacque, who had just returned from Jordan training Iraqi police, had quickly established himself as the intelligent comedian of the group with a sense of humor and endurance that enabled us to stay strong for the next four days.

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The first day of the trail was quite flat with our guides stopping occasionally explaining different flowers and plants. But what come next had surprised all of us - our dedicated and hardworking porters deserved so much respect that I could not even start to describe. The amount of money they make is nowhere close to the unimaginable working conditions they have to endure. Each porter is allowed to carry about 25kg including tents, cooking equipment, our clothings and food etc... Approximately one porter for each of us.

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The first day ended quite easily. Dinner at campsite, again, had surpassed our expectation. After a decent sleep listening to a dog-barking symphony and brushing my teeth next to a curious sheep, we started our second day with spectular weather.

Hiking up to 'Dead Woman Pass' was a killer, as everyone had predicted. With irregular stone steps more than a feet high for hours, I had to stop and rest almost every 30 steps. It was a mental battle as well as physical. The sight of crowds at the top gave me motivation. After a torturing three hours of uphill, I finally made it to the freezing top (4198m or 14000ft) with an unexplanable sense of achievement! No need to say the next hour, all downhill, to our campsite was a breather. Our achievement was treated with afternoon tea with biscuits and Milo, I took a nap until dinner. Dinner started promptly at 7 with absolutely the best pervian family-styled soup. After dinner, we all passed out in the sound of rushing river and frogs. It was a cooooold night!

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Coca tea was served (our tent service) bright and early the next day. We started our third-day hike with another delicious breakfast and up to the second highest pass (3998m) where small stones were piled up as a symbol for protection by puchomama (mother earth). We passed by a few more inca ruins including the Inca Tunnel, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca (towns above the clouds) the next few hours. Taking extra caution at the tall and narrow steps, I was able to finish another day with no sored muscle while keeping up with the group pace. Instead of camping at Winay Wayna, our group were so fast that we actually made it back down to camp right in front of another inca ruins by the river. On our last night, we gave our most sincere gratitude to our porters after dinner. It was a very touching moment.

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Due to a landslide, the proper entrance to Machu Picchu, the Sun Gate was closed indefinitely. So the next morning, we started hiking in the dark along the Perurail train track for an hour to Machu Picchu town and took a bus up to Machu Picchu. The sight was definitely impressive no matter how many pictures you have seen. However, I had a serious congestion from the past few days and medication had kept me a bit spaced-out while admiring this beauty. Julio patiently explained to us how the inca cut stones so precisely in the several important locations. Afterwards, I wandered around with a half conscious mind and tried to soak in the spirits with the perfectly harmonious landscape in the surroundings.

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Just when the sky cleared up, loads of tourists flowed in, completely destroying the serenity and spirituality in the air. I quickly escaped and took the bus back to town. Once back in town, I walked up the touristy streets lined with restaurants and went to the hot springs. No showers for four days had promptly led me for making the decision of trying it even though it is not quite my expectations. We boarded the PeruRail at 5:40pm expecting to get back to Cusco around 8pm. Of course, our already slow train had its engine broke down in the middle of nowhere. I looked out at the roaring Umbambra River for hours while waiting. It was not until midnight did we arrive at Ollantatambo and 2am at Cusco. We were all semi-conscious by this time.

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Overall, the Inca Trail experience was not only a personal challenge, but a revelation. The trekking, camping, the spirit of the group, Julio and the porters (the Inca descendants) were more memorable to me than the actual Machu Picchu ruins. To appreciate the Inca culture is to walk the same stones they paved in the landscape they so strongly associated themselves with.

More pictures here:

Posted by shinenyc 18:56 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Horse Riding & Semana Santa

overcast 15 °C

I have to say nightlife in Cuzco is definitely comparable to big cities. From pubs to clubs to lounges... Sunday night, I discovered a tiny lounge off the plaza with a patio, fantastic stone, wood and iron work inside. Needless to say, I was completely sucked into this relaxing atmosphere lounging on a tiny second level with a moon-shaped couch, magazines and games - an instant favorite.

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On Monday morning, I took a horse-riding tour to see a few ruins in the ourskirts of Cuzco in the morning. My 'horse man' or more precisely 'horse boy', walked me around the mountains stopping at Puka Pukara, an Inka fortress, then Tambo Machay, a resting place for Incas with three ceremonial fountains built on different levels and finally Qenqo, a 'situ' (hollowed-out stone that house an altar served chicha, sacrifial blood) with zigzag channels before finally dropping me off.

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I then walked down to the famous 'Sacsayhuaman', a massive rock structure with stones weighing up to 130 tons and fit together absolute perfectly. Shapes of llama, condor and puma can be found if you looked carefully on the walls. It was used as the Temple of the sun complete with an observatory. I wandered around for a while admiring the amazing stonework until the infamous cuzco showers came down. I was left with no cab in sight. After waiting hopelessly for a while and bumping into a few guys from nyc, I decided to take the slippery stone road back to the center of Cuzco.

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The preparation was going on outside the main Cathedral for 'Semana Santa' as I got back to town. Little that I found out later that this Easter Monday celebration was about to turn this busy town into complete craziness. I sneaked into the cathedral before the service started. A large statue of Christ was in the center of the stage. After a short speech by the top cardinal, a group of men started to carry this statue from the church to the plaza and around town for the next few hours! I was pushed forward by the crowds following the moving statue. It was a weird but exilirating feeling surrounded by such a religious crowd.

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The streets are so filled at this point that the only thing we wanted is to escape from the crowds and seek normality somewhere. There is one and only one thing in our minds at this point - to prepare, get up early and trek the famous Inca Trail the next four days. At our pre-meeting, we met our trail guide, Julio, at hotel Garcilso and started to mentally prepare ourselves for this adventure.

Posted by shinenyc 17:33 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

12-angle stone, baby llama, coca tea and Hail in Cusco

sunny 20 °C

I landed in Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire, yesterday. It's about 3500m high, with approximately a million population currently. Because of the tens of thousands of gringo tourists every year for its magnificent ruins (most famous one is Machu Picchu), now it has evolved into a modern town with countless internet cafes, restaurant and clubs and tour operators on every streets leading off Plaza de Armes. DSCF0017.JPG

No altitude sickness symbol so far. I took a rest at my hostel located at a quiet neighborhood about 15 min from the main plaza. The room is only $13 with 2 beds, living room with cable TV and private bathroom. It really does feel like home especially with super friendly staff. What more can you ask for?

Later, I met up with Ofri whom I met from my central america trip a few months ago. On our way to the main plaza, two pervian women with a baby llama asked me to take a picture with them at a charge. How can I resist for only 1 sole ($0.3)? There is a first time at everything. We also passed by the '12-angle' stone, the most famous stone in Cusco.DSCF0029.JPG
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Ofri and I had afternoon tea at one of the many restaurant cafes with balcony surrounding the main plaza. First time I taste coca tea (supposedly to heal altitude sickness) in a Mickey Mouse mug - it's the happy meal version.

Weather change is very sudden here. One second the sun is out, the next second a large piece of hail that looks like a tiny diamond struck my head.

It's a small world I must say. My friends were staying at a hotel right across from another couple I met from Dominican Republic a few months ago, who just came back by train from Machu Picchu and informed me that there was a landslide at the Sun Gate, entrance to Machi Picchu. They said most people were a bit disappointed. Well, nature always has its says over human. We then went to 'El Truco' for dinner, a tourist restaurant half filled with Japanese tourists. During the performances of the two live bands and dancers with colorful or almost freaky costumes later, we caught up with each other and with our stomach. I had a fairly bad headache afterward, maybe it's the night chill. DSCF0042.JPG

Today is another lazy day - the general election. I didn't see much different on the streets which are filled with people as usual. After a quiet lunch with Ofri, I walked around to different tour operators and asked for prices on paragliding tour over the Sacred Valley and other tours. Hopefully I'll be able to start my adventure tomorrow.

Posted by shinenyc 15:27 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

A thousand stopovers!

semi-overcast 15 °C

After a few weeks of all-nighters with work, I finally got rid of all the projects on hand. Personal growth and living life is more important to me than anything for now.

My flight from JFK left super early today this morning. There were so many stopovers, my semi-conscious state has lost count. After San jose, Quito and Guayaquil in Ecuador, I finally arrived in Lima ,Peru. The Lima airport is very modern and everyone is very friendly.

I arranged for airport pick-up with my hostel, Malka, located in San Isidro which is one of the safe area in Lima. My driver told me that Pervian election is going to be on Sunday and 20 people is running for the president. He also told me that the current president Tojedo, previously a coca farmer, was too democratic and does not have enough control on the people. So let's see what will happen on Sunday. I'll in Cusco, the 'Navel of the world' or the 'Inca capital' more than 500 years ago.

For now, I will try to go to bed although I'm already too tired to do so.

Posted by shinenyc 20:34 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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