Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My (Newest) Favorite Peruvian Cities and Terrifyingly Gorgeous Views

This past weekend I made the epic pilgirmage to the famous ´Lost City of the Incas´--a.k.a Machupicchu! I have to say that it was an amazing, terrifying, inspiring experience. I woke up and caught a bus...okay, a van...out of Cusco early Sunday morning, and here comes the terrifying part: the drive. Not only was it around eight hours, but eight hours on insanely swervy mountain passes overlooking beautiful valleys a million miles below the edge of the cliff they called a road. I spent the majority of the time banging against my neighbor (thanks for the bruise dude) and the window and the ceiling...and closing my eyes and outright praying, wishing I was in our old van with the terrible shocks that I spent many an hour whining about...smooth as glass compared to this trip!!
Closing my eyes was mostly effective, although unfortunately my neighbor had a lovely gasping reflex...everytime a scary part of the road would come to pass, he would swear or let out a bunch of air...and when your eyes are closed and you are already scared to death, this is NOT helpful! As a result, I generally only saw the tiny little falling apart bridges or the gigantic trucks attempting to squeeze past and push us off the road.
We stopped for lunch in some tiny town, where I actually introduced myself to the two Danish guys sitting by me, and met another nice girl from California. Somehow, somehow, somehow we made it to the final leg of our journey for the day, the train station. Chaos ensued there, of course, when our guide immediately disappeared, and we had no one to meet us with our train tickets. I can effectively say that Machupicchu will probably be the last tour I take in Perú, as they´re very disorganized and it´s a bit freaky having all of your decisions and tickets in someone else´s hands like that!
We ended up paying for our train tickets and hoping that we would be met by someone in Aguas Calientes who knew where we would stay, and all of that jazz. The train ride was absolutely awesome: moseying through the jungle (and lots of tunnels! I love tunnels!) and nice and relaxing after that awful van ride. It was made better by the appearance of our guide, which was a huge relief: I was not looking forward to spending money I didn´t have on a hostel and the entrance fee to Machupicchu.
We arrived safely in Aguas Calientes, and I was immediately in love. Not only was it a small, charming little city with colorful buildings and flowers everywhere, but it was in the most incredible setting: surrounded by impossibly tall mountains (making the Rockies look like gentle, sloping hills) and overlooking a raging river. We got settled, and I went out to explore the little plaza, the colorful buildings, and the parks. I wandered around, taking pictures, and enjoying the feeling that I was walking around in Indiana Jones´s shoes:).
We had a delicious dinner, met our guide, and headed to bed early, for a very early morning. I somehow got up easily the next morning, despite the fact that I´m never a morning person, at around five a.m. We caught the first bus up to...Machupicchu! My other favorite Peruvian city (even though nobody lives there anymore). We arrived just in time for the sunrise, and I was absolutely in awe. It´s one of those experiences that you can´t really describe, and my pictures don´t even begin to do that place justice. A massive city high in the Andes, overlooking the Urubamba gorge, in wonderful shape...a once in a lifetime experience that I recommend for everyone! It actually lives up to all the hype and more.
The morning was incredible, watching the sun rise and the great city rise out of the mists...pretty magical. We had a few hours to kill before our tour, and I basically stared around, took pictures, and climbed around before getting seriously lost. Although there were quite a few tourists there at that point, I somehow came into a bunch of dead ends, and then couldn´t find my way out, with nobody else to be seen! A typical Amy situation...but I did find a place with amazing views, gorgeous flowers, a bunch of lizards and some sort of rabbit-looking creature halfway up a giant wall (yeah, what? must be Spiderman rabbit).
I somehow found my way back, after knocking over another tourist and sending his camera halfway down the hill (I successfully retrieved it, and thankfully neither he nor the camera were injured in any way) and rejoined my tour. Not the best tour ever, as really, nobody knows much about Machupicchu, so everything is generally speculation, besides the dates (15th century) and the sort that has archaeological evidence. We did see a few cool areas that I would have missed otherwise, such as the Tomb of the Princess and the astronomical viewpoint.
After the tour, I walked alllll the way back to Aguas Calientes, and it was about a million degrees with 80 percent humidity at that point. (Ironically, everyone told me how cold it would be...funny that I was melting the entire trip, even more so thanks to the massive backpack I was carrying full of sweaters and socks). The walk was beautiful, if a bit steep, full of weird jungle plants, giant butterflies and pretty, odd flowers. And occasionally the sweaty tourist and dramatic views of the river (possibly the Urubamba River, every map I´ve seen seems to label it differently).
The rest of the day was full of more travel, but I didn´t mind the terrorizing bus trip as much, thanks to my Machupicchu high. I barely even minded when our tire exploded twice and we stopped every five minutes. Although I did start to mind when it was quickly approaching midnight, we were stuck in the cold, and we could see Cusco in the distance...!
The trip through the Sacred Valley really opened my eyes a lot, and got me thinking about life and all sorts of fun things. It´s weird how easy it is to be close-minded about the world, and just go through life doing what you´re expected. There´s so many different ways to live! I´m also supremely grateful that I have a choice in this matter, after seeing many corn or banana farms or people who live in tiny little cities, doing what their parents did before them or whatever they can to make some moola. This country also stirs up a lot of feeling in me, from pride to sadness to disbelief. I was in disbelief at the state of the roads (although, as my neighbor pointed out, it IS South America), and in disbelief when we drove through the first waterfall (there were quite a few more) and sadness when we drove through poor little towns past injured dogs and dirty little kids. But, one thing about this country is that everyone acts like they´re friends...sometimes rude, but friendly and always stopping when a car is on the side of the road (except for taxis, they´re just plain rude.)
We did make it back to Cusco successfully, and the next day I had a panic attack, as my stomach has been bothering me for awhile, even after finishing all of my other meds, and I´ve never been very good at pushing it aside and not being a hypochondriac. At first, going to the doctor was a terrible idea--I merely went into the first clinic I happened upon on my way home. Horrible. It was dirty, and gross, and I could not commnicate with my doctor, who kept jabbing me in the stomach and attempting to stab me with a dirty needle. Luckily I can speak enough Spanish, in a decent enough accent (and at a loud enough volume) to prevent any tests from being done or needles going where I didn´t want them. At one point I was in the hallway waiting, and I noticed the guy next to me was absolutely gushing blood from his head--and nobody else even seemed to notice! I gave him a bunch of tissues and let him go first...but that awful experience was definitely eye opening as well.
My panic attack had not been stemmed at this point, but after escaping and returning to my house, I got the name of another doctor from my host sister, Anna, from Denmark. This doctor spoke wonderful English, gave me a good diagnosis and even went with me to the pharmacy. I will definitely be keeping her cell number close by for the rest of my time here!! It turns out I have some parasite (honestly, I´m not really surprised, despite being anal about washing my hands and what I´ve been eating) but I already feel mucho better after a few doses of the meds.
I´m finishing up school this week and getting healthy again before I hit the road next Wednesday! Beautiful desert beaches here I come...followed by tropical Ecuador. I will post pictures of Machupicchu soon (prepare to be really jealous!) if I can figure it out again, I seem to have technology issues.
I hope all is well for you, and that you (the millions out there religiously following my blog) are having some fun also! I love updates from anybody, so feel free to write:) LOVE xx

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