Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cusco Trip - Day 3 - Cusco

Our last day of the Cusco trip was spent in Cusco! Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire. Just a note to bring some light on how big the Incan empire was: The Incan trail (35,000 miles) is second to the Roman Empire’s road system (50,000 miles) and the empire at its peak touched 6 of what are now South American countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile). It went from settlements to an empire under the rule of Pachacuti. You can read more about this online!

Anyways, Cusco is located in the Andes, and when the conquistadores from Spain came, they either completely tore down Incan buildings or simply built right on top of them. Many buildings have Incan-cut stones for the base, and white washed walls where the Spanish built. See my pictures, its crazy! ***

While there, I had to try the infamous Cui or Cuy, which is Guinea Pig. I had mine roasted, and it came with teeth, claws, and the intestines still in its belly. I was able to get some bites down, but I didn’t like the taste of the meat. And I also felt a little bad, haha. Apparently, it is made other ways which are better, but for this experience I just didn't care for the meat.

Also, I spent some of the day horse back riding. It was hilarious, and I will attempt to explain why through a light hearted and dramatized contrast of USA ways and Peruvian ways:

  1. In the USA, we are time obsessive and organization freaks, for the most part; at least its a cultural pressure and value. Peru, and most of the world, does not particularly value time management. Nor is it as organized in some parts, either due to development and infrastructure issues or simply because it is not a value over other values.

  1. If I were to horse back ride in the USA, there would be a designated guide with a designated trail, and everything would be explained before hand so that there is communication and understanding. An American value is communication. It would be straightforward and uneventful as far as following the time allowed and the path taken. In Peru, it is somewhat a gamble on what will exactly happen, and don’t expect to be told where you’re going or what you are doing. The value is on enjoying the ride. Also, there was no specific guide, but many children horse keepers trying to keep the horses together while running on foot. We helped one with his English homework.

  1. In the USA, if there is a time to get off the horse, the guide will instruct when and where. In Peru, the horse decides when the rider is going to keep riding or get off. It let’s you know by leaving the path and heading to the river for a drink. Don’t think your special, if your horse goes, all the horses will go, so enjoy exploring the area by foot for a while.

  1. Finally, my favorite part, if I was going horseback riding to see some ruins, there would be officials and entrance workers to let me in upon arrival (like a museum). There would be signs set up, and parts in which I could and could not touch. In Peru, it is different (there are SO many ruins that just sit on the side of the road). We went to an old ruin site that was marked off by a single blue ribbon. The guide simply removed it and let us into the cave, which we thought was a little different but followed. We were walking all over sculptures and a ceremonial table, and I wondered why we could do it. It turns out we weren’t supposed too, because a man dressed in an official uniform appeared towards the end and asked us what we were doing. The guide just did it. We then returned home after convincing our guide that we didn’t have time to see the other ruins because it was getting dark and cold (note the time management perspective).

I hope that gave a mental picture to the horseback riding trip. It was so much fun!

Cusco is really pretty at night. Everyone is out walking at night: young people, tourists, and old couples! There is a beautiful plaza in the middle of the city and while we were walking around there was fireworks and two weddings going on!

I got up early the next morning to walk around and take pictures. Three friends joined me, and we checked out a 7am mass, just to observe it. It was in the grand cathedral of the central plaza. The insides were very elaborate with scenes from the Bible made out of gold.

A quick note: the picture of the dogs shows how many stray dogs there are in the Andean towns and in the poor parts of Lima. It breaks my heart every time I see a lonely hungry dog, it really is a problem in certain parts. I miss my Jetta!

Someday, I would like to return to Cusco (without the altitude sickness). It is a very interesting city.

Cusco Trip - Day 2 - Machu Picchu

*** Cultural Note: The rainbow colored flag is the the Incan/Andean flag. You see it hung everywhere in the Andes. The picture of me with the flag is on top of Machu Picchu, the highest mountain point in the Machu Picchu area.

The second day of our Cusco trip was spent in one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Hidden in the majestic Andes is Machu Picchu, a lost Incan settlement and ceremonial site. If one comes to Peru, one must go to Machu Picchu; it is to Peru what the Great Pyramids are to Egypt.

That being said, it was incredible. Even as I write about it, the experience of Machu Picchu in its majestic and solitude nature, sinks in. The Andes are the perfect location for this mysterious settlement, because the Andes are the most mysterious and rugged mountains I have ever seen (and I have seen a few mountains!)

To get to Machu Picchu one must do this:

1. Take the Incan Rail, the most magical train I have ever been on full of mate de coca and chocolates, up to the city of Aguas Calientes

2. Arrive at the city of Aguas Calientes (which just opened up again in May after horrible flooding) and take a bus up the switch backs to Machu Picchu

3. Arrive at the entrance site of Machu Picchu and climb up fights of stairs for about 5 minutes.

4. Turn the corner around some rocks and have your breath taken away at the site of Machu Picchu.

5. From here, feel free to explore the settlement of Machu Picchu, and hike up either Machu Picchu, the mountain, or Hyuana Picchu, the other mountain.

First, we toured the Machu Picchu ruins, and then we were set free to hike. The settlement of Machu Picchu is built literally into the mountain and on either side are two mountains: Machu Picchu (which means old mountain and is the highest point of the area) and Hyuana Picchu (which means young peak and though it is not as high up, it has very small paths which makes it a challenge!) I hiked Machu Picchu to the highest point. It was the hardest thing I have ever physically done, but it was absolutely worth it. When we began the hike, it began to rain, which is rare as it is the dry season. It rained all the way until I reached the top. Also, the hike up is all stairs and stones, and the altitude makes it difficult to breathe. My friends and I had to chew coca leaves and smell peppermint ointment to open up our lungs. Sometimes we would run into the Andean hiking guides in their traditional garb. While I was doubling over from fatigue, they would breeze on by and say a friendly “Hola!” It was quite comical and inspired me to make it up the mountain.

The experience of hiking in the rain, seeing the peaks rise and fall hidden by clouds of mist, chewing coca leaves, and finally reaching the top and seeing the rugged Andes in full view was an experience with not only good people, but God as well. When I saw creation on top of the world, something in my heart bursted forth and I had to worship the Creator. Again, God, thank you for mountains and beauty, and thank you for giving us hearts to feel alive!

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cusco Trip- Day 1: Chinchero & Ollantaytambo

The first week in Peru was spent traveling in the southern part of the Andes mountain range including visits to two hot spots of Peru: Machu Picchu and Cusco. However, the first day of our trip was spent in the town of Chinchero and Ollantaytambo. At Chinchero, we watched how a group of ladies make the famous woven goods of the Andes from alpacha, sheep, and llama hair. They showed us how they dye the thread using natural products, for example extracting the color from purple corn or squishing live snails. Finally, I bought alpacha leg warmers that are super cute. :D

The second city, Ollantaytambo, is a small town, but is famous for being the last and only Incan town left in the world. The reason for this is because all the houses and buildings date back to the Incan empire, but are still lived in today. It is a slow moving town, and people are always walking around trying to sell small items, but that practice is everywhere in the Andes. Cui farms are common, which are Guinea Pig farms. Guinea Pig is a dish native to the Peruvian Andes, and I had some in Cusco, but that is another story! There are also ruins there that show some of the unique agricultural and architectural practices of the Incans. (Such as they built into the mountains, built in shapes of trapezoids, and used the small stones at the base and the big stones at the top. Also, they grew plants in levels up the mountain to help them accustom the altitude)

Speaking of accustoming to the altitude, I was hit with altitude sickness the first day. It felt like I wasn't actually breathing oxygen, and I was dizzy and nauseous after just walking a flight of stairs. The remedy for me was drinking my favorite Andean drink: Mate de Coca! It is tea made with the same leaf that makes cocaine; the leaf is steeped in hot water for a wonderful tea (see my picture!)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Goodbye (with some new hellos)

My first week and a half in Lima have been crazy busy. I have already been to Machu Picchu, Cusco, and have spent the this last week trying out many classes so I can register next week at PUCP or La Catolica.

I am going to write about the last week in a half in 4 entries so here is my first one!

My trip began with a drive to Fargo from Minot. Kody, my parents, and I stopped in Bismarck so I could say goodbye to my good friend Ali, but then she surprised us and decided to come with. My last night in the USA was spent meeting my new baby cousin Aaron, and then having a huge fiesta at IHOP with amazing friends (love all you Fargo Folk so much!).

Of course I was nervous and cried at the airport, but I got meet two ISA friends on the trip to Lima.

When we arrived we were met by ISA folk and my first culture shock was the traffic. I am not sure if there are traffic lines are not, but nobody follows them. Our driver side swiped a car even before we left the airport, and the only thing that was done was informing an official letting cars out of the airport parking lot!

List of past times I did my last weekend in the U.S.A!
  1. Spent the day at the lake
  2. Played frisbee, bocce ball, and a rousing game of night time kick ball at Nikki’s birthday party (The Saints, my team, won. HOLLA)
  3. Mini golfed
  4. BBQ’s
  5. Pot luck
  6. Went to a wedding and then crashed another wedding
  7. Went to Walmart (haha)
  8. Ate breakfast for supper (IHOP!)
  9. Drank a TON of Coca-Cola

God, bless the USA with Your Presence! Hasta luego, until I see you again...