Wonder of the World #1 – Machu Picchu

We woke up at 4am. We then waited in line for an hour to get on the bus that would take us up to Machu Picchu. I have never seen so many people wait in a line at that hour of the day. But it was more than worth it.

We were lucky to be some of the first people to enter the park. There was another option to hike up to Machu Picchu but as we had another hike ahead of us, the bus was the best option. We spent the next hour wandering the ruins and listening to the tour guide, me catching every fourth word in Spanish.

We had an entrance ticket to Wayna Picchu at 10am. Also known as Huayna Picchu, only 400 total can climb each day, 200 in the morning and 200 in the afternoon. We had the 10am pass so as long as we started our climb before then, we were guaranteed entry.

I thought getting the ticket was the hard part but little did I know, I was gearing up for the hardest climb I had encountered yet. Oh, and did I mention I had a backpack with a computer in it? Yea, word of advice, use the lockers outside of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately I didn’t know about them until it was too late.

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The beginning of the climb.. you have to go down to go up.

The next hour would be spent climbing steep stairs with people crossing up and down. It was hard. You stopped asking people how much longer because you truly did not want to know. I was out of shape, but I was even more impressed by some of the people doing the climb who were three times my age. What happens if someone had a heart attack or broke something during this climb? Must think happy thoughts….

Some people brought oxygen along the way. You also forget that you are quite a bit above sea level (7,972′) and simply breathing is a challenge in itself. We had some coca leaves which helped you to keep going when you wanted to quit.

All said and done, it was so so worth it. If you take all the time and money to get to Machu Picchu, make sure you plan well enough in advance to climb Huayna Picchu as well. I can’t say enough good things. All I can do is give you a taste of the victory you will feel when you reach the top.

 

It was exhilarating. It is clear why it is a wonder of the world and why it is on seemingly everyone’s bucket list. I would do it all again in a minute.

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one last look…

What are you waiting for?

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Trek to Macchu Picchu

We were dropped off in the middle of some mountains after 6 hours on minibuses that seemed capable of falling off the side of the cliff.

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On the way to Aguas Calientes

Hydroelectrica.  A required stop for anyone trekking to Aguascalientes. We walked across a make-shift bridge that would never fly in the U.S. We then headed into town where the smart people could take a 30 minute train ride into the little town. Ricardo and I decided to hike. After a quick stop at a restroom, we hit the trails. It was only supposed to take around two hours, it probably took us closer to three.

You would pass people along the way and ask how far. At a certain point, it just became depressing so we just smiled and walked past. We saw some animals along the way including guinea pigs. Intriguing to see since we knew, by that point, what guinea pig tastes like.

It started to get dark and there still wasn’t much sign of the city. There was also a train tunnel that said to not walk through. We didn’t see any other way around though, so we proceeded. It then started to rain and we wondered if we were ever going to make it to the town. We found some other lost souls along the way who didn’t know where to go either.

Eventually, we found the city and we made our way into town. Now, at this point, I had gone on a few hikes throughout South America and I had also been more active than I had been in years. What had happened? Why was I so exhausted from a 2 and a half hour hike? Thank goodness we were taking the bus up the mountain tomorrow.

We waited for our guide to take us to our hotel for the night. We walked past all the nice hotels to possibly the worst hotel I have ever stayed in. I’m not even sure you can call it a hotel. There was no real water, and of what was there, it was freezing. This was even worse than the hotels we stayed at on the salt flats of Bolivia, at least those felt semi-clean. We only had to be there for a few hours though so we sucked it up and called it a night. All for the sake of adventure. In the morning, Macchu Picchu.

Cusco: A foodie paradise

After Lima, we headed to Cusco. You cannot talk about Cusco without talking about food. Now, food almost everywhere in Peru is delicious. I am not sure what it is, perhaps it is all the potatoes, but the food is just great.

In Cusco, we stayed at two different places. For the first part of the trip, we were at El Mariscal, Cusco. I would definitely recommend this hotel. It is walkable to most areas of the city, feels safe, and great price. We had already booked our tour for Macchu Picchu (which I will discuss in my next post), so we spent our time looking at other tours around Macchu Picchu and exploring Cusco.

Exploring local ruins.

Exploring local ruins.

We were in Cusco for around 8 days which was a good amount considering Macchu Picchu takes up a minimum of two days. Our first day in Cusco was spent adjusting. We then signed up for a local tour around to some of the sites in the area surrounding Cusco. If you think Macchu Picchu is all there is to do near Cusco, you are sorely mistaken.

We went on a tour of Sacsayhuaman with a local tour company. They also took us to a few other ruins around the area. It is amazing to see what people built thousands of years ago. This was a tour of an Inca fortress that is situated above Cusco. It is very large and you can spend some time walking around.

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Walking around Sacsayhuaman, just outside of Cusco.

The other part of the day was spent touring some museums in the area and even seeing some buildings that date back to the Incas within the city. The buildings themselves are engineering marvels considering the amount of earthquakes they withstood. Some are built better than modern day buildings.

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Taking in Plaza de Armas from the steps of the Cathedral.

Now for my favorite part of Cusco, the food! We made stops at quite a few restaurants as we are self-proclaimed foodies. The top 3 are as follows:

  1. Green Point – Go. Now. Do not think about it. Cheap Vegan eats that you cannot beat. Go for lunch and you will not be disappointed. Stop after a meal for dinner. You will not regret it!

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    The amazing dessert at Green Point.

  1. Le Soliel- We splurged on this one while we were in Cusco. This is one of the top rated French restaurants in not only Cusco, but all of Peru. You will not be disappointed but it will cost you. We started with Escargo and then I went with the Duck l’Orange and my boyfriend had the rack of Lamb as main courses. All was delicious and prepared very well. We washed it down with a wonderful bottle of Malbec that the owner recommended. World-class experience.
  1. Papachos – Right out side of Plaza de Armas is this burger/wings/ sporty restaurant that you take the stairs straight up. You can sit on the balcony and watch the people in Plaza de Armas. The view comes with a price and two burgers and drinks ran us around $40 USD. Try the Alpaca burger or stop in for drinks when your favorite team is playing. You won’t be disappointed. Great, solid food, when you are missing some more typical American style food.

Flash trip in Lima

After my wonderfully relaxing stint on the North Coast of Peru, the time had finally come to head south to visit Lima and Cusco. I was to meet my boyfriend in Lima in two days time. I hopped on a bus myself for 16 long hours south to Lima (highly recommend Cruz del Sur if you are bussing it around Peru). I thought of stopping along the way but there were no clear stops and it would have ended up costing me a day or two. I could also hear the sound of luxurious, actual hotel rooms calling my name knowing that I’d be able to split the costs with someone.

Miraflores, the place to be in Lima!

Miraflores, the place to be in Lima. 

I stayed in two hostels while in Lima in the most famous area, Miraflores. Some people think Miraflores is too expat-y, but for me it was a welcomed change compared to the bit rougher Talara in the North. I avoided the tourist things and just wandered around the city for the most part, enjoying the loveliness of being in a major metropolis again. Sunday was wonderful as they shut down the streets and allow pedestrians to run, walk, or bike in the street. The days seemed to fly by and while it wasn’t the easiest place for me to be on my own (a few single meals here and there), Ricardo was quickly there to greet me.

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We got to have some morning drinks on the boardwalk which overlooks the ocean in Miraflores, Lima after Ricardo arrived. The views were well worth the stop.

I met him at the airport. It was supposed to be a surprise but Lima traffic was horrendous. What should have been a ½ hour ride turned into nearly 2 hours. It was so great to see a familiar face and once again be with my ultimate travel partner. This was the 3rd (okay 5th if you count the two trips to El Salvador) international trip of ours. All you out there who say you have to wait until a honeymoon to go to great places with your S.O., I don’t believe you.

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Ricardo enjoying the coastal view in Lima, Peru!

With Ricardo in tow, we set out for some famous Peruvian seafood in the form of sushi. If you know me at all, I am a massive researcher. I did my research and found Edo sushi in Miraflores. Clearly I did not research enough. I was so disappointed. I should have known considering it is a chain (sorry, I’m a bit anti-chain). It was an expensive meal for average sushi. We had two rolls and tiradito – supposed to be a bit like capriccio but was too heavy and too much like sashimi for the type of fish.

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Our amazing feast at Punto Azul made up for the previous night. I could eat this multiple times a week!

Luckily, the next day was a much bigger success. Our plane left at 3 for Cusco. As mentioned, the airport was around a 30 min ride away so we figured as long as we left by 1 or so we’d be good. Well, as we only had another day in Lima on our return, we decided to get ceviche and one of the best places in Lima is Punto Azul and it lives up to its reputation! We made it there around 12:30, ordered almost immediately and paid before the food had even arrived. We got ceviche, stuffed oysters, and arroz con mariscos ( rice with shellfish). A buzz, completely stuffed, and the first cab we found, we booked it to the hotel for our suitcases and then off to the airport. I was sweating bullets in that cab worried we’d hit traffic and be denied boarding but we made it!

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Our first ceviche of Lima! So delicious, you bet it wasn’t the last.

Next stop, Cusco!

Why Lobitos should be a stop on your Peru tour.

I took a bus from Mancora to Talara, Peru about three stops, or an hour and twenty minutes at around 12pm. I am confident I was the only foreigner on that bus.

Talara is not nice. That is the simplest way to put it. It is a Peruvian city overrun with trash and people. It is a oil port town and many people came to the city hoping for jobs. However, the companies (owned by the Spanish) ended up bringing in people from Spain to perform technical jobs such as Engineering which the people of Talara were not trained for. This turned into a problem which results in near weekly strikes where any cars approaching Talara have rocks thrown at them.

Needless to say I was glad I wasn’t staying in Talara but I was nervous for Lobitos at that point. I got off the bus and walked about two blocks to where the local collectivos were, or shared taxis. The interesting thing about these Taxi’s is you don’t move until the taxi’s are full. Then again, I cannot complain after a 20 minute ride for 3 soles or $1 USD.

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I figured I would be okay hanging out in Lobitos for a while.

When I finally arrived to where I was staying in Lobitos, I was pretty content. It was a hotel on an old military base. It was a short walk to the beach. It was small and their was a room with a TV to watch movies. Of course, there was no market in Lobitos so you always had to plan your meals when you went to Talara. Also, internet was spotty but you could not beat the calm uncrowded beaches.

So why should you visit Lobitos?

1. Beaches – These are not the best beaches in the world. These are solid beaches on Peru’s North Coast and honestly, nicer than most beaches I saw in Peru and even Colombia.

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I love when you have beaches to yourself.

2. Surf – If you are an intermediate to expert surfer, Lobitos is for you. It occasionally gets a bit busy but you can usually find some time for yourself during the day. As a beginner, it was a bit too much for me and I was taken out a few times.

3. Relaxing – So relaxing. No rush. No problems. No traffic. No daily grind for anyone in Lobitos. All you have is sun, surf, and drink (if you want).

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The only complaint was when the sun would get too hot walking back to the hotel from the beach. Things could be worse.

I stayed in Lobitos for about 2 weeks. Fortunately it was a much better workaway than my previous experience. After two days in Lobitos I was a bit worried that I would be so bored. I came to really enjoy the pattern and days to focus on myself. My days usually went like this: Wake up at 7am, Run 3 miles (on the beach), jump in the ocean, dry off in the sun while reading, Nap or watch a show, Work lunch from 1-5, make dinner, watch a movie, call it a night by 10pm. Wake, and repeat.

Not a bad way to start the day, not at all.

Not a bad way to start the day, not at all.

I don’t think I’ve ever been less stressed in my life. Occasionally, I’d change things up by trying to surf or writing. I think I read about 4 books in two weeks while out in Lobitos. It was also great to get to know people as there was a French couple, a Swedish couple, and  a girl from Colorado out there with me.

Do yourself a favor and get off the beaten path and take a few days to refresh in Lobitos, Peru.

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I was sad to say goodbye, and especially to these sunsets.

Mancora & Beach Time

Given how much I disliked my workaway in Huanchaco, I decided to leave early (surprise, surprise) . I am not sure I have ever been so happy to leave a situation. I thought about staying in Huanchaco for a bit longer but not at the hostel but then I was worried about running into people. I did meet a girl at the hostel who was traveling to Mancora as well so that was the one benefit of having someone to travel with for a bit.

By this point, I was so ready for a proper vacation.

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The Loki in Mancora and basically what it looked like when we arrived at 6am.

I caught an overnight bus with Stacy, the girl I had met at the hostel. She had just finished up working for 2 and half years in Lima. She was from Australia. We stayed at the Loki and it worked out great as we got to check in early ( I mean 5am early) and we could sleep once we got there. We had great roommates as well who we ended up becoming friends with.

Who wouldn't want to lounge on this beach all day?

Who wouldn’t want to lounge on this beach all day?

Now a bit on Mancora. Mancora is a beach party town on Peru’s northern most coast. It is around 3 hours from the border to Ecuador. Mancora is one of the most touristy cities in the North of Peru, if not Peru. The beaches show you why.

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The neon painting that ensued in Mancora.

After our nap from the long journey, we walked to the market and bought our breakfast/lunch, which ended up being an avocado, bread, and a mango.  Did I mention how great mangos & avocados are in South America??? So delicious, so cheap and surprisingly filling. We then spent a bit of time laying out on the beach, and this was the first time in a looonnnggg time, that I spent too much time in the sun and got a bit burnt. (Once every 5 years won’t hurt too much, right??)

Later that evening we decided to get dinner with the other girls we met. We got some amazing burritos that were in a crepe (different, I know) and made ourselves some mixed drinks on the ocean side. Given that we were staying at a party hostel which had cheap drinks, we stayed there for the night and actually had a lot of fun. Cheap drinks, glow paint, and a game or two of waterfalls and you have a great night. We wrapped up the night with some ping pong and were out by midnight.

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Green Eggs & Ham. I liked it so much I came back again the next time I was in Mancora!

The next day was a bit more of the same. We got breakfast at a place called Green Eggs & Ham based on the famous Dr. Suess book. It was a welcome break to have American style breakfast after 3 months of travel. This is a must stop when in Mancora. I highly recommend the fresh juices as well! We spent the rest of the day laying out on the beach and enjoying life. Later that night, we said goodbye to our new friends and Stacy and I moved to another hostel for ½ the price and our own room. We laid low on a Sunday and swapped hotel horror stories.

We were woken the next morning to be told that the place was being fumigated (ya know, to kill bugs and everything living). Not ideal but we managed. It was fine with us as we wanted breakfast and to buy a few things. Stacy’s next stop was north to Ecuador as I was heading an hour south to stay in Lobitos for two weeks. More adventure awaited.

Huanchaco, Peru and the worst “work” experience of my life

I decided to head straight for Huanchaco on Monday so I could get there by Tuesday night. It was a very long trip. I think Arequipa to Lima was over 12 hours, and then another 8 hours from Lima to Trujillo, and then a half hour taxi to Huanchaco. Every thing seemed good the first night. I quickly realized looks can be deceiving.

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Huanchaco’s curved beaches on the promenade.

I thought I had signed up to mostly help reception and help people set up their new hostel. What they really needed was cleaning help. They put me to work the first day and I spent the next 7-8 hours cleaning. Now, most workaways have people working 4-5 days a week at 5 hours a day. This workaway expected me to work 6-8 hours a day, 6 days a week. This turns what should be a mutual arrangement into a nightmare. I was working harder than I had worked in a long time, for basically no pay, or the equivalent of $1 an hour. I did not realize when I agreed, that I would be a cleaning lady (nothing against, I just was expecting more reception type work).

To make matters worse, the couple who owned the hostel were a bit unorganized . At one point they had too many volunteers and not enough rooms so that people were sleeping on the roof. More than half of the volunteers were friends of the couples which made matters worse, mostly for me. It was the perfect opportunity where they just took advantage of hard workers. It seemed any time I sat down for a break, there would magically be more things to do. I think they were terrified themselves of people taking advantage.

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Huanchaco’s smaller waves are the perfect place to try out a surfboard!

Huanchaco wasn’t all bad though. The one good thing is it is a great place to learn to surf. I found a guy who was willing to rent me a board and wetsuit for 20 soles a day or the equivalent of just shy of $7 dollars. I went out about 4 times and stood up about half. Surfing is so hard and intense. Not sure it is my calling, but I sure enjoy the full body workout that comes with it.

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If there is one thing I learned about Peru, it is that they love to dance!

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One of the last sunsets in Huanchaco & view from where I was staying.

Huanchaco is a fairly sleepy surf town. It is most certainly a town and growing pretty quickly. There are many restaurants, bars and tourists. If you want to learn to surf, it may be one of the best options.