BootsnAll Travel Network

Days 589-599: High-Altitude Peru

Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cuzco, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu

The Incas did some pretty nifty stuff despite their short period as an empire.

We had been warned that it was a hassle to travel in Peru and that folks would constantly try to rip us off. With the exception of the governmental fleecing to get to and into Machu Picchu, we’ve been pleasantly surprised. Maybe everything is relative and having spent 20 months on the road in places like Indonesia, India, and Egypt has toughened us up a bit.

First stop in Peru was the town of Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The standard tour guide joke is that Peru has the “titi” and Bolivia got stuck with the “caca”. But the joke is reversed on the other side of the border. Sure it’s juvenile, but we still chortle either way its given.

It is tough to see all the confetti in everyone’s hair, but this is a wedding in Puno.

The main draw at Puno are the Islas Flotantes (floating islands) which are made entirely of reeds. There used to be a real culture that lived on these islands (maybe there still is somewhere). But now there are dozens of tiny floating islands that have been made specifically to woo tourists. Despite this, it was still pretty interesting.

“Semi-traditional” reed boat moored to one of the Islas Flotantes. They cheat now and fill the boats with hundreds of empty plastic drink bottles for buoyancy.

Nearby Puno are the Inca and pre-Inca funerary towers at Sillustani. Here’s a crumbled Inca funerary tower at Sillustani. The guide claimed it was “destroyed by lightning”, but we aren’t buying it.

Kelly gives an alpaca visiting Sillustani a scratch behind the ears. No, she didn’t get spat on, but you can tell that alpaca was thinking about it.

For all of our friends and family with newborns: Here’s a great way to save a few bucks on a playpen or ignore chair. This was at a “traditional home” on the road to Sillustani.

The guinea pigs were living large in their own palace. Just don’t tell them that cuy chactado is on the menu.

We happened to be going through a small town during its colorful, multi-day anniversary celebration. We were warned that “sometimes the locals drink too much”. And boy did they! Peruvians have some interesting views on public decency. For example, burping is considered to be quite rude. However, we’ve witnessed quite a few people shamelessly urinating on churches (starting at this fiesta). Hmmm…

“But why weren’t we invited to the party?”

Nothing gets a party going like wearing a bull rider costume. (Yeah, the guy in orange just finished peeing on the church in the background.)

We hopped on a bus to Cuzco and ended up with a schizophrenic driver that spent the first half of the trip putting on a display of safe driving on straight, empty, flat sections of road and then switched to Mario Andretti on the curvy canyon section leading into town. It was a mistake to visit the on-board baño with a faulty door lock during the curvy part as Marc found out when he fell out the door on a sharp curve.

Cuzco is a pretty big city with lots of cool Inca sites in town and the nearby Sacred Valley. Quite a few buildings in town were built atop Inca foundations. The Inca walls were really quite incredible. They can be very complicated and made of enormous, very tight-fitting stones.

The Incas really knew how to make a stone wall. They were really good at jigsaw puzzles too.

The huge Dominican church/museum sitting atop an Inca foundation in Cuzco.

Bright flower at the Dominican church.

December is the rainy season in Cuzco. So we spent a lot of time carefully watching the weather so that we could make a break for it to Machu Picchu when the weather cleared up. In the mean time, we saw the bottom of a lot of clouds in and around Cuzco.

Pachacuteq briefly delivered some sun to Cuzco. (Note that this Inca name modestly translates to “transformer of the Universe”.)

A lot of the churches in Cuzco date from colonial times and are really quite impressive. They are still in use today. They used to be free to visit, but now are charging $3-5 to visit. But we figured out that you could sneak in during mass for free.

La Compañia church in Cuzco – one of two whopper colonial churches on the Plaza de Armas.

Nice flower about to get watered at the Inca fortress at Sacsayhuaman. Having trouble pronouncing that one? It sounds like “sexy woman”.

Steep lane in the quiet part of Cuzco with nasty weather brewin’.

Sorry folks, but there won’t be any postcards sent from us from Peru. At least not while it costs about $2 each for postcard stamps. That has to be a record for the trip so far.

The Inglesia de San Cristóbal.

The Sacred Valley has got a whole lot of corn. And not the kind we’re used to. The kernels are enormous! As big as your thumbnail. Choclo (corn on the cob) and sweet tamales made for tasty street snacks.

The colorful Pisac market was happenin’.

No, its not Machu Picchu. This the hilltop temple of Intihuatana above Pisac with some very nice stone work. They even incorporated existing boulders into the temple structure.

What is that?

The weather forecast looked good. So we took a bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo. It wasn’t long before our bus got stopped at a police checkpoint. The cops said that our bus did not the right permit to continue along to Ollantaytambo. What? This is the only route this bus ever drives. So they made us all get off the bus and wait until another bus coming the other direction agreed to swap passengers with our bus. Trouble was, the new bus was about 10 seats smaller than our old bus and Marc had to stand in the aisle with his head sticking into the sunroof (the only place he could fit).

Really nice terraces at Ollantaytambo.

Eating in Ollantaytambo was an interesting experience. Besides the funny menu below, we also sampled some of the worst pizza ever made. At breakfast one morning, Marc had to tell the waiter, “Hay muchos bichos en este jugo.” (There are many bugs in this juice.) Never thought we’d have to say that, but sadly it would not be the last time.

In other places, taking your Loin to the Huntress will cost you extra. We’d recommend steering clear of the Antipooch of Alpaca or taking your Loin to the Iron.

The train ride to Aguas Calientes goes along the mighty Rio Urubamba, which was thrashing wildly in the rainy season. Aguas Calientes is a bit of a tourist trap, but there no other choice to get to Machu Picchu. The mini-markets and restaurants are pretty effective at gouging tourists, but if you can find the locals’ fruit market, you can score a half-dozen bananas for a Sol (about $0.30).

Nestled in the Rio Urubamba valley, Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu.

Just look at that road up to Machu Picchu. This is the cheap view of MP from the nearby Putucusi mountain. The hike up Putucusi is really, really steep and we were both sweating like whores in church.

Finally our carefully-selected day for going to Machu Picchu arrived with a torrent of rain. It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how hard you plan, Mother Nature will do whatever she wants. We got up early to catch the first bus up the hill at 5:30am. Right before this bus was supposed to leave, an old guy with a sign in English walked by the line for the bus. The sign said that tickets to Machu Picchu can only be purchased here in town and are not available at the actual site. Well crap! So Marc ran for it and got the tix and even managed to notice that the ticket guy tried to short change him. We made it on that first bus and got to top even before the gates were opened. Of course it looked like folks were buying tickets at the top just fine.

Our first view of Machu Picchu before the flood of tourists arrived. We got two pics off before the clouds set in for the next 5 hours.

The clouds set in and it started to rain and just kept on raining.

We asked one of the locals what he thought of the weather. Yeah, tell us about it.

An adorable vizcacha in MP. Supposedly a relative of the chinchilla.

No body told us that December was also the time the school groups go on trips to all the sites in Peru. We’re all for expanding the education experience to cultural sites. But this was Sunday! Give us at least one day in peace. The hordes of school kids and tour groups were all decked out in colorful pastel ponchos.

Like somebody spilled a bowl of brightly-colored jellybeans.

After about five and half hours of inclement weather, we got a 15 minute break in the clouds and could actually see the whole site. We rushed back up the hill to the view point.

[Insert the sound of angels singing here.] The clouds parted for a brief view of the ruins.

Now what do you think of the weather? (That’s llama for smile.) Yeah, we like it too.


8 Responses to “Days 589-599: High-Altitude Peru”

  1. ¡Viejo Papá De la Inflamación! Says:

    Gracias por ayudarme a calcular fuera algo único para conseguir a mi nieto para Navidad: ¡Rocas!

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Mom Says:

    Love the llama’s comments – very expressive 🙂
    And the play pen – awesome – a little dirt never hurt anyone…

  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. Byron Says:

    I agree with Viejo Papa!

    The llama smile is too much.


  6. Posted from United States United States
  7. kiwon Says:

    This entry brought back a lot of good memories from our own visit to Peru in 2005. Nice to see you guys are still chugging along! Inspired by you guys, Jean and I are plotting our own ’round the world adventure in a few years.

  8. Dan Says:

    Interesting religious references in this entry. Going to mass (even if only to avoid fees), sweating like “whores in church” (how would you even know that?), and queuing the angels to start singing …. this must have been a “heavenly” experience.

  9. Posted from United States United States
  10. Jenny Peterson Says:

    I love your blog! I just came across it looking for information about the Jungle Railway in Malaysia. My husband and I are planning on doing a similar (but shorter) trip, We are leaving in June 2007 for a year and we are going to South America and Southeast Asia. We are planning on hitting alot of the same places you have been so it’s been GREAT reading about the places we want to go and seeing your pictures. We are also from California (San Francisco) but after this trip we are going to move to South Lake Tahoe. Anyway, enjoy your trip of a lifetime and please keep the posts and pictures coming!

  11. Posted from United States United States
  12. Amy Leah Potter Says:

    not sure how i stumbled upon your site but your descriptions and photos are fantastic…brings me back to some places i have visited and makes me eager to see more!

    thank you to you both and happy travels,


  13. Posted from United States United States
  14. Nick and Sue UK Says:

    I came across your blog by accident, had a read and oh yes….. the memories came flooding back, what a country!!! A remarkable place full of contrasts. A country trying to balance the past with modern tourism. We had a great time there and one thing for sure, you have to have a broad sense of humour when travelling around.
    I would go back tomorrow given half a chance !


  15. Posted from Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia

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