overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

Stinky and Smiling on Machu Picchu

Monday September 2, 2013

tour of Machu Picchu

*You’ll have to excuse some of the photos in today’s post.  There aren’t as many breathtaking photos as I wanted to include or that this place deserves, a lot of these pictures focus on a practical purpose to show our experience there more than the beauty.  But those pretty photos do have a time and place, so stay tuned tomorrow for Picturesque Machu Picchu.  (Now up, click here to view!)


If you’ve never been to Machu Picchu before, there’s a fair amount of planning and organizing that goes into it. Tickets need to be purchased and they need to be done in advance. Find yourself at the top of this mountain without a ticket in your hand, and you’ll be told to turn around and go back home (or just back to town, really) because tickets aren’t sold at the entrance. Only 2,000 people a day are allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and if you want to climb the neighboring mountains of Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu, which we definitely did, you’d better secure those tickets weeks in advance because only 200 people a day are allowed to make that climb. So there we were, still back at Matt’s mom’s house in Michigan, frustratingly trying to get our tickets booked and subsequently getting turned down because we didn’t have Verified by Visa. After a few days and a few phone calls, everything was taken care of and the date we originally wanted to visit was pushed back to four days later because we didn’t book quick enough. That’s seriously how quickly they go.

Our whole schedule in Peru up to this point has been planned around these tickets; what cities we could visit, how long we could stay in them. In short, you don’t just drive up to the sun gate and say, “I wanna get in”. So after booking plane tickets, bus tickets, and now train tickets, we were finally ready to go to Machu Picchu.

Since our climb up Huayna Picchu was scheduled to let us into the entrance of that area between 7 and 8 am, we had set the alarm for 5:30, making sure to pack our bags before we left the hostel since we’d still be at Macchu Picchu when checkout time came and wouldn’t be able to come back to pack after. Eating the tradition free breakfast that most of these hostels offer of bread, jam, and tea, we stuck a liter of water and a couple of granola bars into my messenger bag and set off to take one final bus up the zig-zag road to the entrance. Matt had wanted to do that walk as well, possibly even just to save the $40 in those bus tickets, but I warned that by straining ourselves on that walk/climb up, we’d have no energy left for the mountain. If we hadn’t purchased our bus tickets the night before because he didn’t know about the hiking trail at the time, I doubt he would have listened to my reasoning. He usually doesn’t.

Stepping off the bus at the top we already were running behind at 6:45, and had no idea where the entrance to Huayna Picchu was. Handing over our tickets and passports while passing through a turnstiles like we were entering Disneyworld, we started quickly scrambling up random steps, trying to follow the signs for where we needed to go, until we were greeted with this.

Machu Piccu just after sunrise

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

Did your jaw just drop?, because mine just did. Not only as we saw it, but as I was going back through my photos to post this as well. Imagine how it looked in person. I was awestruck. But only for a minute, because we were still running behind schedule and I was going to be damned if I missed my hike up the mountain. Stopping other early risers that were there with their tour guides, we got directions to where we needed to be and joined a line of about 50 people ahead of us. Looks like we weren’t going to miss our climb after all.

waiting to enter Huyana Picchu

One of the things we noticed as we were waiting in line was how hot it was already getting now that the sun was coming up. Almost every person we had talked to that had been here already spout on about overcast skies, mist, rain, and even snow. We thought we’d be freezing our asses off, and dressed appropriately for that. Matt was in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, and I had layered with running pants and a lightweight hoodie. Something else also occurred to me after we were given our pass and started making our way up Huayna Picchu. “Uh oh”, I glanced at Matt, “I think I forgot to put on deodorant today”. “What do you mean?”, he gawked at me. “How could you forget to put on deodorant?” I replied that we were in a rush that morning, it had been in the bottom of his bag (we keep all our toiletries together), and ooops, I must have slipped my mind as we were rushing out the door. He stared at me with some slight disgust and made sure to put a few more feet between us, as well as keep me downwind of him. I couldn’t be any worse than those people that just hiked the Inca Trail though, right? They must be going on three days now without showers.

first glances back at Machu Picchu

The groups of people that had been slightly spaced out as we began this trek now all crammed together as our path turned from wide dirt trails into steep stone steps. When the sign at the beginning listed the difficulty of this hike as ‘medium’, they were lying. It was frickin’ hard. Higher and higher we climbed at 45 degree angles, although honestly, it could have been steeper, because it felt like we were going almost vertical. Add that to the altitude of straining ourselves at over 7,000 ft, and I’m glad we spent at least two days in Cusco acclimatizing ourselves. It almost became a challenge, for me at least, to not stop. When people ahead of us would get to a small patch of dirt and stand to the side huffing and puffing while they tried not to lose consciousness, I trekked right past them with a smile and a nod, since the extra energy it would take to actually say hello would probably put me right there next to them. Each person we passed felt like a small triumph, especially since in my lack of an exercise world, I don’t think I could run a mile if you pointed a gun at me right now.

climbing the steep steps at Hauyna Picchu

After more steps than I cared to count, we made it up to a viewing area with only one need to stop and take a breath.  The request was actually from Matt, but I was happy to have a minute of deep breathing forced upon me.  Being able to stand for a few minutes without the pressure to keep moving, I’m surprised my legs didn’t give out from under me.  By now they were feeling a little like Jell-o and I had to wonder what the rest of the day was going to be like if I was already feeling this weak at 8:00 in the morning.  Realizing we needed to really slow ourselves down, we let ourselves sit and rest for awhile while taking in the spectacular views.  Matt must have grasped what a special occasion it was to be here because he even suggested multiple times that we get our photo taken together.  The same guy that I can usually only get photos of him walking away because he refuses to pose for them.  I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.

overlooking Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Panoramic from Huayna Picchu

kissing in front of Machu Picchu

 From there it was only farther up.  Not quite as hard with the steep stairs we had just come from, but something that was, um, a little more interesting.  To continue further up the mountain, we had to climb through a cave.  And not just any cave, but one where the entrance and exit were just big enough to squeeze one person through at a time, but only if they were crouched down and basically crawling.  Inside was actually quite spacious, at least compared to the opening, and I believe that rituals used to take place in there.  The exit was a little more fun as it was almost vertical and felt like you were going through a rock tube.  It is definitely not a spot for those with claustrophobia, and I think there have since been other ways built around it.

entering the cave on Huayna Picchu

exiting cave in Huayna Picchu

 From there it was just a few steps up a cricketey wooden ladder, scaling up a few boulders, and we were at the very top!  The views were nothing short of majestic, and we enjoyed it in seclusion with the 20 other people that were scaling boulders next to us, shimmying, jumping, and crab crawling from one place to the next.  While this spot does afford some beautiful views, actual solitude does not come with it.  Nor does the ability to sit and enjoy those views before you for hours on end, because the person behind you wants your spot too.  We did allot ourselves 2-3 minutes on one of the highest perchable places, had another photo taken, and then inched our way across and down the boulders to make room for others.

Matt pointing at mountains

top of Huayna Picchu

top of Huayna Picchu

boulders at top of Huayna Picchu

 Now it was time for the even harder part.  Getting back down.  Those steep steps that we had huffed and puffed to get to the top of, now looked like a vertical death trap on the way back down.  I can see why they advise against climbing here during wet weather.  One slip on the slick rock and you would be a goner.  Even with the wire handrail at my side, I didn’t  trust myself, or my biceps really, to let the one hand on there be all that kept me from tumbling into the valley below.  Following in the footsteps, literally, of the people in front of us, we took their lead and faced ourselves backwards while slowly climbing down, using both our hands and feet as we scaled down it like a ladder.

stone hut on Huayna Picchu

overlooking Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu

looking down vertical stairs

 To the bottom left, you can see the stairs and people climbing down them.

vertical steps

 Here’s another view of them from a photo that Matt’s mom found online.


Once we got to the bottom I had no idea how my legs were supporting the weight of my body since with each step we had taken down, they’d shiver and wobble below me.  It was almost like when I did cross-country back in high school, how my legs would go numb after the first mile and a half and I couldn’t even tell I was running anymore.  Which is probably why, as our other hiking companions were crawling their way back into the ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to take on Wayna Picchu as well.  Or whatever the smaller mountain there is called.  The signs here are so utterly confusing that we gave up trying to figure out which mountain was which five minutes after we got here.  It was still worth the taxing climb since this mountain is much less popular, and you are rewarded with beautiful views from the top in actual solitude.  If you ever find yourself here with a packed picnic, I suggest this is where you eat it.

view from Wayna Picchu

 Decending this smaller mountain and getting back to the ruins, we realized what a mistake we’d made about not pacing ourselves, not packing a lunch, and definitely not bringing enough water.  The 1 liter we were sharing between the two of us was now just about empty, and we still had a lot of ground to cover in the hot sun.  Following the exit signs as we left the mountains, we had no idea which was the best way to tour the ruins or if there was one spot to start that was better than the other.  For a little while we had our Peru guidebook in our hands and we leafed through the pages and tried to make sense of the map.  When that didn’t work, we tried to fall in behind tour groups that were already in place.  Big surprise of the day, even with all the gringo tourist there, the only thing we could overhear was Spanish.  I think I caught a whiff of German, and maybe even a little Polish, but absolutely no English.

You may be asking why we didn’t just spring the few dollars for a tour of our own.  We’ve heard they’re very informative and well with the money, but truth be told, by that point I don’t think we had the energy to trudge around for the next 2-3 hours while getting a full breakdown of the place.  I don’t think our bodies could handled it.  I don’t think our brains could have handled it.  At this point we were just happy to do a little wandering on our own.  In the areas we could tell held high importance, we stood around for a tour group to come by and I would do my best to pick up on a few words and translate them to Matt.  Not the most informative way to see Machu Picchu, but we still felt fortunate just to be standing there at all.

stone wall Machu Picchu

pit of death

 I’m pretty sure this translated to ‘Pit of Death’.


It was a very large compound, and we’d aimlessly amble up and down and left and….OMG, they have llamas!!  Excuse me one moment, I’ll be right back.

llama grazing Machu Picchu

Jessica petting llama

 Where was I?  Oh, right.  So we had no real destination, but would just walk through the paths, take random turns, sometimes backtrack, but mostly just tried to see absolutely everything there was before our hearts gave out and we died of heat stroke.  Which if you remember my last post from Cusco, yes, I can die happy now.

stone wall in front of Huayna Picchu

Matt & Jessica overlooking Machu Picchu

 Back on the bus I asked Matt how he felt now about shelling out money for those tickets instead of walking up and down like he had originally wanted.  Face still flushed and panting he replied “Best $40 I ever spent”.  Don’t worry, even though I was right on this, he still won’t listen to me in the future.

Heads resting on our seats as we gazed out the window where the ruins fell slowly out of view, we took to talking about how incredibly lucky we were to be able to come here and how it was worth every penny, including that overpriced train we were about to hop back on.  When Matt asked me what I’d remember most about Machu Picchu, I came back that I couldn’t quite choose between the sunrise over the mountains when we first walked in, or the view from the top of Huayna Picchu, or even the llamas I was able to hunt down and pet.  When I reversed the question to him, he responded “That my wife forgot to wear deodorant”.  Well, at least he’ll remember something.



view of Huayna Picchu from hot springs, Aguas Calientes

Strains, Trains & Aguas Hot Springs

Sunday September 1, 2013


Today we were able to add a new mode of transportation to our list of various different ways we get from here to there, by taking the train from Poroy, a small town just a few miles outside of Cusco, to Aguas Calientes.  Getting up at the crack of dawn, we shleped with our overstuffed backpacks down to the Plaza de Armas to meet our taxi driver from yesterday who agreed to get us to Poroy for half the cost that was quoted from other cabs.  When he never showed, (and we had a slight feeling he wouldn’t.  He spoke no English and my Spanish is still muy terrible) we started hailing other taxis while still trying to get a price that we liked.  That’s somewhat of a good thing here.  There’s no meters, so you agree upon a price before you get in.  If they quote higher than you want, you just tell them to move on while you wait for the next guy.  We ended up going through three cabs before we could finally get a price that was agreeable, but still saved about $4 from what everyone else was trying to charge us. I know it’s not much, but I don’t like having to pay the ‘tourist’ price when I don’t have to.

Cusco at sunriseSunrise in the plaza. So pretty.


Getting dropped off at the train station, we noticed right away that there was something different between us and all the other people waiting to board.  No one had any piece of luggage larger than a small carry on that would fit on a plane, and here we were with these jumbo bags on our backs.  After reading the small print on our tickets, it turns out that the train does not have a storage compartment like the buses do, and your luggage is supposed to be limited to 11 pounds or less.  1.)  Ooops.  Guess we should have read that earlier.  and 2.)  What the hell were we going to do now?  There was no way we’d have time to go back to Cusco, leave our bags at the hostel, and get back before the train departed.  So we did what we do best.  Played stupid.  We acted like we had no idea there were rules against the size of bags on our backs, and no one said anything.  As soon as we stepped on the train we stashed them on a small shelf at the entrance and ignored the dirty looks from others as we took our seats.

In his own odd way, I think Matt was kind of happy to be breaking the luggage rule as he could find one little way to ‘stick it to the man’, or PeruRail, since the cost of their tickets are pretty frickin steep, and they’re the only way in and out of Aguas Calientes unless you want to walk.  Not only that, but they even sat us apart even though we ordered our tickets together.  I just sat back, next to the perfect stranger they put me next to, and enjoyed the views out the window.  There were some amazing sights along the way, and it even worked out that my new neighbor spent about 30 minutes in the bathroom, so I was able to drool all over the window as we passed by snow capped mountains and a rushing river.

mountains outside of Cusco

river outside of Cusco

Off the train it was once again time to search for a hostel.  My normally handy searches on Travellerspoint had given me no indication that there was anything available here in the way of hostels, and we thought we might be shelling out $70 or more for the cheapest hotel room we could find.  For Matt, I think he would have paid it if it meant he didn’t have to walk around all afternoon with that backpack on his back.  I swear that thing is over 60 pounds, and when we snatched it up from the streets of Vietnam a few years ago, was obvious the straps and supports were not made for someone his size.  We just started walking into anything we could see from the street that had the word Hotel or Hostel on it, and wound up with a decently cheap private room at the second place we stopped.  Our bags were put away, and we searched the streets for things to do.

Scrutinizing hairless Peruvian dogs was one of them.  We had never come across them before, but there seems to be an overwhelming love for them in this town, because everywhere we went we saw them running around.  I’m still not sure how I feel about them.  If I think they’re incredibly disgusting, or if they’re so ugly they’re almost cute.

Peruvian hairless dog

 The other big draw of this town, are the hot springs.  These sit just on the outskirts of down, but not more than a ten minute walk.  They are natural thermal springs, from which the town derives it’s name.  For the cost of about $3.50/person, you gain admission to the site where there are multiple pools of springs, ranging in temperature.  We weren’t expecting a lot, but figured it would be a good way to waste a few hours as well as soak our muscles before our long hike up Huayna Picchu tomorrow.  It’s a good thing that we weren’t expecting very much, as things springs were not all that nice.  The water is a little murky, it smells like sulfur, and there’s the few occasional dead bugs floating by.  Surprisingly, we didn’t mind any of that very much.  It was an experience to go there, and that’s what we were getting.

For two and a half hours we sat and soaked in one of the warmer pools, sometimes changing it out for a cooler one and then going back.  A few other travelers that had just done Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were in there with us, and it was fun to hear the stories about their hikes.  To say that we’re excited about going there tomorrow would be a total understatement.  We have been looking forward to this since before we even booked our plane tickets to Peru.  While in the tubs, since Aguas Calientes sits at the bottom of some very large mountains surrounding it, the sun dipped behind them at the incredibly early hour of 2:30.  It cast some beautiful light onto the mountains surrounding us, and we decided to hit the showers in our hostel and explore town a little more before it got completely dark.

entrance to hot springs Aguas Calientes

Matt in the hot springs Aguas Calientes

view of Huayna Picchu from hot springs, Aguas Calientes

 The rest of Aguas Calientes looks to be a very nice town that is also used to catering to tourist, with lots of restaurants, shops, and even a large soccer field with someone always out playing or practicing on it. I wish we would have had more time to spend here, but the train is taking us back to Cusco tomorrow just after we finish hiking Machu Picchu.

P.S.  Can anyone tell me what that rainbow flag symbolizes?  We keep seeing it everywhere in Peru!

Plaza de Armas Aguas Calientes

old train tracks running through Aguas Calientes

bridge crossing Aguas Calientes

house with glass viewing platform, Aguas Calientes


horizon Stingray City Grand Cayman

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon.  The space or line where the sky meets the earth.

horizon Stingray City Grand Cayman

You’ll have to excuse the randomness of this post, right while we’re traveling through South America, but I’m trying something new here on the website.

I have just come across a wonderful site called The Daily Post, and in it are weekly photo and writing challenges where a theme is given, and then you post that to your site and share it back to The Daily Post.  It sounds like fun, and I think I’d like to give it a try, considering I’ve got over 6,000 photos building up just from this past January.  So if you see a random photo with a description popping up on the site that has nothing to do with where we currently are or what we’re doing, fear not, I have not lost my mind.  Not that much anyway.

The photo above, you may recognize from our trip to Stingray City in Grand Cayman.  We were snorkeling in sandy and clear 3 foot waters as we watched, played with, and even fed the wild but somewhat trained stingrays of the area.  Weather was not cooperating as we had remnants of tropical storm Andrea blowing through, which made for some interesting sailing and dinghy trips, but also some great photos.  Here you can see Brian and Stephanie’s boat, Rode Trip, anchored in the distance.  It was well worth the 36 hour journey for what should have been a three hour tour.

sunset in the Plaza de Armas Cusco

Cusco Cool

Saturday August 31, 2013

streetlights of Cusco

Our past two days here in Cusco have flown by, and I feel like I don’t have any photos to show for it.  Because with what’s been going up lately, 14 is basically nothing, right?

We arrived in Cusco yesterday morning after taking another overnight bus, and grabbed a taxi just as the sun was coming up.  With no definite hostel in mind, but a list of three of them in our hand, we were dropped in the Plaza de Armas and started walking from there.  The first one we popped our heads into didn’t hold much interest, so we went to the next one down the list where, even though we were walking in at 7 am, still had many people milling about in the center courtyard.  Whether they were just early risers or were still up from the night before, I have no idea..  We checked into this place, and after being brought to our dorm room where there was no way we couldn’t have not woken up the four other people sleeping in there as we crammed our bags into the lockers and stumbled to our bunks in the dark, we once again passed out until noon.

Upon waking, we showered and changed out of the clothes that we had now been wearing for over 24 hours straight, before taking on this new city.  Cusco is town that lies about 50 miles outside of Machu Picchu, and where most people stop for a few days to acclimatize to the altitude before continuing on there.  This is also the jumping off point for the Inca Trail, or in our case, the departure spot for the train that will take us there.  Because there are so many gringos passing through here on their way to Machu Picchu, it is fully dedicated to tourist.  The center of town is full of upscale boutiques and shops, plus even a McDonald’s in the Plaza de Armas.  If you thought we’d be running in there as soon as we saw those golden arches, like we were seeing a long lost lover after months away, you would be wrong.  We actually went to a little bistro down Gringo Alley (as the guidebook calls it) where Matt got a club sandwich and I enjoyed banana crepes.  Besides, we had McDonald’s back in Arequipa.

Finishing our lunch, we went to take on the city ourselves after we realized we once more missed the damn Free Walking Tour after sleeping in past it’s noon start time.  It wasn’t very hard to find the major draws of this town though.  There were three plazas within two blocks of our hostel, each one with a nice fountain and benches surrounding it.  Wanting to get better views of the city as a whole though, we found winding stairs and streets that led up the foothills surrounding Cusco, and took in breathtaking views as we stood stories above everything.  I swear, the skies here are the sharpest blue I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

staircase in Cusco

overlooking Cusco

 On a quick side note, we found out as we were trekking up these streets made of stone, that neither of us were wearing shoes that had any kind of traction.  There were a few times that each of us went to put a foot down, and it would slide out from under us where you’re left doing that awkward thing where your arms flail out at your side, and there’s a half second where you’re pretty sure your ass is going to come into hard contact with the ground, before gaining your balance and righting yourself again.  I’m sure it was pretty good amusement for the locals that watched us from their doorsteps.  I’m feel fairly certain that buying new shoes, at least for Matt since he says I have too many pairs already, is going to be on our list of things to do while here.  Good thing that every other shop in the pedestrian mall is a shoe store.  You think I’m kidding.  I’m not.

Before we had the chance to kill ourselves or fall off a mountain before getting to Machu Picchu, since I think I could die happy after that and wouldn’t care, we sequestered ourselves back to the main plazas, going back to people watching and reading our books.  There was also an ever popular game of ‘Slug Bug’ going on, since there were more old VW bugs here than I’ve ever seen in my life.  Matt kind of kicked my ass at that one, but I like to pretend I was more into my book than watching cars.  When it came time for dinner, we found a really nice Chinese restaurant just down the road from our hostel.  We’re finding these things everywhere here in Peru, they’re almost as popular as shoe stores.  A plate of pork fried rice big enough to feed 2 will only set you back about $3, and add a liter of Coke to that for $1.50, and we were staying well below our meal budget.  We happily chomped away on our cheap food while wearing our llama gloves and hats, since Peru seems to have a policy of leaving all doors open, even when the temperature drops down to 45 degrees at night.

Plaza de Armas Cusco

Peruvian woman by fountain

 Today there was a little business to take care of before we could enjoy ourselves.  Since Matt is ever the planner, he wanted to make sure that we had our bus tickets booked and in our hand for our next few destinations.  The train will get us to Machu Picchu and back, but we’ve found that with the bus line we use, ticket prices jump up the day before and day of departure, so it’s best to buy them a little in advance.  Without a printer at our disposal, or even much trust of the websites used here, we first tried to walk back to the bus station before getting hopelessly lost and hailing a cab.  Once there we purchased tickets to and from Puno, where Lake Titicaca sits on the Peruvian side, and then back up to Lima so we can finally start heading north.  Back in town we had to hunt down the office for PeruRail to have our train tickets for tomorrow printed out as well, and with that, the rest of the afternoon was ours.

There was a little bit of shoe shopping to be had for Matt, and although he did find a style that he absolutely loved, he also found out that his American size 12 foot was too big for them to produce anything in his size here.  Hopefully Lima will cater to bigger men.  There was also a tour through a local Chocolate Factory, and we were given samples of so many delicious tasting things, including tea that tasted just as good as hot chocolate, and even a misting of Axe bodyspray for Men in chocolate for Matt.  Also on the list was to check out a large market that’s hosted a few blocks from the center of town.  Walking through the rows of goods, I had to remind myself that I don’t have the need or even the room for a llama sweater, but we did walk away with about a five pound wheel of cheddar, and also took a moment to sit down and try picarones, which are fried rings of squash and sweet potato drizzled with honey.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.


Having spent two days wandering the streets now, we spent the rest of our day hanging out in the Plaza de Armas until the sun went down.  This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful plazas in Peru at night, and I don’t disagree.  I have to say though, better than nighttime, I think sunset is the absolute best time here.

Church and fountain in Cusco

fountain in Cusco Peru

Avenida de Sol CuscoChurch, Cusco Peru

Traditional Peruvian attire in Cusco

sunset in the Plaza de Armas Cusco

Cusco Peru at night

 Back at the hostel for the night, we thought we’d hang out in the bar lounge area while enjoying a beer and getting some work done on our computers.  We’re quickly finding out that backpackers are not like cruisers, in the sense that we’re all drawn together, especially people in our age bracket.  We’re starting to find that, and not to pigeonhole backpackers as a group, but in the place we’re staying, if you’re into getting completely wasted or staying up until four in the morning or finding someone to hook up with for the night, you don’t fit in.  The people here don’t seem to be interested in talking about their travels, they seem to be more interested in getting wasted in different parts of the world, or talking about other parts of the world they got wasted in.  It’s like we’ve walked into a Frat House, 10 years too old.  We are literally the old farts of the group here, which is funny considering that I just wrote about us being in the young ones in the cruising world.  There happened to be a masquerade party going on at our hostel that night, and while actually being able to engage one of our roommates in a conversation while I was working, Matt was told by this guy that “Maybe you should put a mask on.  Then no one will know how old you are, and they might talk to you.”.  Thanks guy.  You just made us feel a loooot better about ourselves.  I think I’ll now drown my sorrows in that one liter bottle of beer in front of me.

masquerade party