So we closed Mancora out with a bang. Our last night we had a feast with Bobby D (pictured below with Deanna) and hit the town up with him.
We said goodbye to our beach paradise early in the morning with a cab ride north to Tumbes to fly down to Cusco, via Piura and Lima. I slept the entire time and Deanna finished reading "Places In Between" which she highly recommends. After landing in Cusco we took another cab 90 minutes into the Sacred Valley to our destination of Ollantaytambo. We checked in to the oldest hotel in town (that Deanna basically planned the entire Sacred Valley excursion around) called El Albergue (pictured below), which lived up to all of its hype.
The town felt like what the Peru pavillion would look like at Epcot Center combined with the Ojai valley region in California. As cute as can be (except for the hill we had to walk up every day, which took 15 minutes). We ate like kings (the second best spaghetti bolognese I have ever had--the best was in Bologna), relaxed, explored some Incan ruins and steamed in the eucalyptus sauna every night.
Our third morning in town, we took a 7am train to Aguas Calientes, the launching point for Machu Picchu. We got there around 8:15 and bought our MP tickets and our bus tickets (important travel tip: get your tickets before you go up to MP, as they don't sell them there). We took the bus up the 30 or so switchbacks straight up the mountain and emerged in a drizzly cloud at the entrance. We hired a guide, Olga (who was awesome), to take us around for the morning.
The rain was a blessing in disguise. MP was almost empty--they average 2000-3000 tourists a day and there were maybe 200 people at most when we were there. Everyone in brightly colored ponchos (one for 3, two for 5--all my Phish tour friends would have been happy) spread throughout the ruins, giving us plenty of room and space to explore without running into tour group after tour group like we were expecting.
That picture above is actually us standing on a ledge overlooking MP. We swear it is not a green screen or backdrop as it appears to be. Click the link at the bottom of this blog entry for our first Ofoto gallery slideshow. That being said, pictures just don't do Machu Picchu justice. The scale of the place is expansive and the way the Incas used the mountain in the construction of it was mind-blowing. They left every rock already existing on the mountain in place and built walls around them. When constructing all the agriculural terraces, they used the excvated rocks to build the walls and structures (so they didn´t have to schlep rocks from a quarry).
The below pic is one of our favorite parts of MP. In several places, the Incas sculpted large boulders into exact replicas of the surrounding mountains in order to summon the power of those mountans without having to climb those higher and more treachersous peaks. The mountains across the valley were as lush and green as any rainforest and the clouds added such an air of mystery and intrigue. It was right out of Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings. We really took a step back in time on top of that mountain.
We hadn't realized that MP is a complete mystery... no clue why it was built--no gold or silver found, no king's quarters, and the spanish never knew about it. 120 mummies were about the only thing Hiram Bingham found there when he discovered it in 1911. Plenty of theories abound as to the function of the city, but our favorite (and what Olga believed) was that it was a brain trust where they brought the most important, intelligent, educated and refined Incan minds to experiment in agriculture, textiles and religious observances. Kind of like when the Apocalypse is about to come and the US sends a space ship to another planet with the best and brightest... (OK fine, we caught the end of a cheesy 80s sci-fi flick in Spanish in the hotel last night.)
Our other favorite part of MP was the llamas walking up and down stairs to feed on grass on the terraces (no lawn-mowing necessary). Deanna was very proud of me for making a Peruvian woman laugh with a spanish pun. When a llama walked right in front of us, I turned to her and asked "¿Como se llama?" :)
After about 4 hours we took the bus back down the mountain and hopped the train back to Ollantaytambo (though not before picking up a really cool handmade backgammon set with condors and llamas as the pieces). On the train, we were doubled over with laughter when the drink servers put on some techno music and did a full-on alpaca sweater fashion show, complete with runway struts and turns. Think Magnum and Azul Steel...
We got to Cusco yesterday morning and immediately fell in love with the town. We´re staying in the San Blas neighborhood, the bastion of bohemian life and artisans. We strolled around, exploring the crooked cobble-stoned streets (that remind us of Brooklyn Heights back home) and drinking coca tea (this city is at 13,000 feet). We stumbled upon a craft store where Deanna fell in love with some of the purses. We met the designer (pictured below). I decided to buy Deanna an early birthday present so she and Marcela designed a new purse together that Marcela is making by hand as we type this. She can´t wait to pick it up tomorrow!
After that we did some more strolling and found ourselves in a plaza with a delightful surprise--a Brazillian reggae/ska band (below) was setting up getting ready to play for free. We hung out watching them dance around, having a great time. Reminded us how much we have missed live music! Luckily this town is bumping with bands and DJs playing every night, which factored into our decision to stay here for a while.
Last but certainly not least, we met up with Raj and Carrie, friends from back home, for an amazing dinner (alpaca roast beef mmmmmmmmmm). Thanks for treating us to dinner!
Now the rest of you need to come visit and we promise we´ll treat you to a night on the town. Keep the email updates coming--we love hearing from you.
OFOTO LINK will come when all the pictures finsh uploading... check back later.