Yesterday I made my way home to Washington and am currently cuddled up in my bed and reunited with my cat, Luna. It’s pretty nice, though I’m still feeling bittersweet about leaving Peru. There is just something special about Cusco that I can’t quite put into an appropriate slew of words; I love being surrounded by the Andean mountains, exploring the Sacred Valley, learning the history of the Incans, seeing llamas on every corner, enjoying vegetable stuffed potatoes and potatoes in cream and potatoes in soup and potatoes in my sleep. So maybe the WiFi is absolutely terrible and the cobblestones make for a slightly bouncy walk, but we can’t all be perfect, but Peru does come pretty close. My time here was filled with more adventures and happiness than I could have imagined and I am extraordinarily sad to leave, yet I find comfort in the fact that I will return one day. That is a promise.
It turns out that Cusco and I share a mutual love for each other as the city didn’t want to let me go either. Due to incredibly bad weather in the form of perfectly clear skies and sunny beams of light, my flight to Lima was cancelled with no flights out until the next morning, creating a wake of destruction for me as I couldn’t make my other scheduled flights. Nearly $500, 16 phone calls, 3 flight changes and an extra day in Cusco later, I am back on track to the States! It was a struggle to say the least and despite my love for Cusco I was becoming pretty desperate to get home. After successfully changing one flight the airline representative asked me which seat I would like on the plane: aisle or window. Aisle or window? Either, both, anything! I’ll take the middle seat, stuffed the bathroom, stashed in the cargo hold, duct taped to the wings, just get me on a plane home.
Flight fiascos aside, I spent a solid portion of my time in Peru behind a hostel bar serving travelers delicious drinks featuring Peru’s infamous liquor, Pisco. I landed this gig from an awesome website called Workaway which connects travelers and locals who are seeking help in various tasks all over the world. Many jobs are in hostels, some are in schools teaching English, others are looking for babysitters and then there are a few that are a little more out there like planting mushrooms on a remote island in Cambodia or taking care of 7 cats in a Parisian apartment. It’s not exactly volunteering and it’s not quite working, instead it is an exchange that is beneficial for both parties. In my case, I worked 4 days a week in the bar for a bed, breakfast, drinks and discounts on food. But that’s the business part. Sure, it saved me some serious dollars, but the true benefit is in the experience; I became great friends with my fellow volunteers, met an innumerable amount of people from all over the world and learned new skills that I can take home with me. I became a part of a small family and it made my Peruvian experience that much more enjoyable. (And if you find yourself in Cusco, be sure to stay at Hostel Kokopelli’s and order a Pisco Sour!)
On my days off I enjoyed exploring the Sacred Valley, frolicking around the city and trying new cafes in search of the best coffee (Heart’s Cafe in Ollantaytambo makes a mean Moka, let me tell you).
One such day off I decided to go on a tour to see Maras, Moray and Salineras, but as per the misadventurous spirit I must exude, I was sent on the completely wrong tour than the one I had paid for. Instead of a six hour tour to three places I hadn’t been I went on a nine hour tour to one place I had already visited and two I wasn’t particularly interested in at all. Admittedly I was a bit bummed (okay, a lot) because it was the last day of my Boleta Turistico (the 10-day ticket needed to see the famous attractions around Cusco, aside from Machu Picchu buying tickets to individual attractions isn’t really an option) and because of this mishap I was spending it in places I didn’t plan to go to rather than the ones I was excited to see. But you just have to roll with it, and roll I did. I made new friends, saw a few more ruins and learned the art of weaving from a humorous Peruvian woman. By humorous I mean that during the weaving process a bone is used and she asked us if we knew which animal it belonged to. We guessed llama, alpaca, maybe pig… and then she explained it was the bone of a tourist who didn’t buy any of her things. Buh dum dum tss! Maybe you have to have been to a place where you are constantly bombarded by locals selling you anything from chicken figurines and massages to fully appreciate the punchline, but it was fantastic. And fear not, it was actually llama bone, but I almost bought something just for safe measure.
Another trip I took was to Machu Picchu because you can’t really leave Peru without seeing it, duh. Even on a foggy day it is a place that takes your breath away and is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Alright, that’s a lie, I have seen a lot of Incan ruins, but nothing near this scale. What really got me was the lusciously green landscape paired with the beautifully built city that is literally surrounded by mountains; I felt like I was in the middle of a snow globe with Machu Picchu at center stage and mountains rising from every angle. Like I said, breathtaking. Small history lesson: MP was built around 1450 and abandoned a hundred years later during the Spanish conquest (though the Spanish never knew of its existence so it remained untouched) only to be “rediscovered” in 1911 and becoming a historical sanctuary in the early 80’s. Despite the common belief of it being an Incan village it is actually believed to have been the vacation spot of the royal family and built at the height of the Incan empire.
I decided to hike Machu Picchu Montaña, which is essentially climbing a pile of rocks at a 90 degree angle for one mile at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Piece of cake. (Or as the Spanish say, pan comida!, which roughly translates to “bread food”). I hike fairly often and this bad boy was one of the toughest I’ve done, but I still managed to make it up in a few minutes under an hour and being the first one up I got to take it all in with a little solitude on what felt like the top of the world. Unfortunately though it’s not always better at the top, at least not at 8am… Because it was early morning and my luck with weather is practically non-existent, the supposedly incredible view was hidden in fog and you could barely see a thing. And by “barely” I am delicately saying that you could see absolutely nothing whatsoever in any direction. But it was a nice workout, so there’s that!
Afterwards, I explored the city, watched llamas race across the fields and joined the crowd waiting for the fog to pass at the main viewpoint (I’d hate to see high season if that was the low season crowd…) Luckily the fog did pass every 30 minutes or so and for about 10 solid seconds, in which time everyone would jump up to snap a quick picture then sit back down sadly and wait for the next window of blissful photographic opportunity. Despite the weather I can honestly understand why Machu Picchu is a world wonder- it is absolutely, one hundred percent, an incredibly wonderful site to see.
Later, I visited the salt mines which also falls under the category of incredible places unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Maybe I’m a bit out of practice when it comes to salt making and these are actually fairly normal, but it was something very foreign to me. It was fascinating to walk past square after square of salt production and listen to the trickle of warm mountain water as it flowed down into the mines. I also really liked that they belonged to families in the surrounding villages and they each own a square or two.
Before flying home we decided to fly over the Sacred valley of Cusco! Paragliding required absolutely no skill on my behalf aside from awkwardly running off a cliff and sitting down, yet it was a phenomenal experience. Seeing the lakes, mountains and farms below is something that I won’t forget. I also won’t forget my Dramamine next time…
I’d now like to take a moment away from travel to publicly grieve for the loss of the Seahawks during the NFL playoffs. Also, to my Grandpa if you are reading this, I send my sincerest condolences to you and all those at the Tavern, it was indeed a tragic game and I am sure your grief is great. It was a painful first half (0-31….) and an amazing turn around in the second, but it just wasn’t quite enough. Although terribly sad, I find solace in the fact that the Patriots lost and although I don’t like the Broncos, I surely despise them less than the damn Patriots. And my dislike for the Broncos is also less than my disgust for the Panthers and the unforgivable Cam Newton, so as far as Superbowl 50 goes… Go Broncos! And for us Hawks, there’s always next year and hopefully by that time Russell will learn how to avoid being sacked 600 times a quarter. I mean miracles can happen, right?
Animals. I will definitely miss all of my furry friends (and all the ones that did not want to be my friend…)
Lucre. On a hunt for lagoons in a small city outside of Cusco.
Museums. Not that great, but it was interesting to see evidence of body alterations by the ancient Incans. Apparently elongated foreheads, and tall heads in general, were considered beautiful and the molding process to achieve such a look began at a young age.