Monday, May 9, 2011

Peru - Doing it For America!

Cusco, Peru

With our adventure coming to a close, Pauline and I only had time for one last adventure.  That's right, you guess it, no trip to South America is complete without a visit to Machu Picchu.

In front of Machu Picchu before the crowds arrived

Some interesting history about Machu Picchu.............

So, this guy named Hiram Bingham, an archeologist from Yale and also inventor of the tweed jacket, "discovered" this place, although locals all knew all about it for a long time.  Bingham gave some local Peruvian kid the equivalent of an ice cream sandwich, and this kid showed Bingham the lost ruins.  Big mistake, little Peruvian dude!  Bingham then brings a team from Yale down to Peru and they find all this cool Inca shit, and he flies it back to Yale to "study it".  He promises to return it in a couple of years.  100 years later you can still see all of these artifacts at Yale.  Peru is actually suing Yale to get it back.  What is strange though, is that in the tourist office where we bought our tickets, we picked up some brochures on Machu Picchu.  We were obviously given brochures in English.  In these pamphlets Bingham is praised and credited with being a hero.  I really wish I could get my hands on one of the Spanish brochures.  

Scenes from Machu Picchu

This is great info if you think you're ever going to go to Machu Picchu.

1. You must take the most expensive train in South America to get to Aguas Calientes which is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes

2. Machu Picchu is at the top of a great big hill - it takes buses 30 minutes to get to the top
3. If you choose, you can hike to the top instead of taking a bus
4. Gates to trail open a little before 5am - buses don't depart until 5:30 am.
5.  First 400 people into the park are eligible for a stamp, which allows them to climb up another big ass mountain, where you can take the classic postcard photograph of Machu Picchu from above.
6.  The name of this big mountain is Wayna Picchu.
7.  The group of 400 is split into two time periods.  There are 200 people that can climb the mountain at 7am, and 200 people that can climb the mountain at 10am.
8. The 10am time is way better.  The 7am people routinely see nothing but fog and on the way down have to share the hike with the 10am people.

Clockwise from top left: Wayna Picchu (yep, it's that ridiculously high peak); hiking to top; view from top of Wayna Picchu looking down at Machu Picchu

So, out of the thousands of tourists that visit each day, Pauline and I have to be in the first 200, since everybody knows that the 10am is better.  We ask around and find out from various sources that to be one of the first 200 people, you have to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3:30am and hike to the top - if you take a bus there is no guarantee that you'll be in that first 200.

So our alarm goes off at 3:30am

"I'm thinking.....No," says I.

"Ditto," says Pauline.

So Pauline resets our alarm for 9am.  I'm laying in bed, and I can't help but to feel like a lazy piece of shit.  This is what my brain was doing while I lay in bed.......  "Mike, you are a LOSER!, a big fat LOSER!.  It's one of the 7 wonders of the world.  It's a freakin lost city that was the only Inca city to have miraculously avoided destruction by the Spaniards.  Get out of bed you disgrace!"

Machu Picchu

So I reluctantly call out to Pauline, and her brain is berating her as well.  We get up, pound some breakfast, and begin the most arduous part of our 3 month trip.

The hike to Machu Picchu was an hour and a half, straight up hill.  Over 1,800 steps.  And these weren't normal steps, some of them were real hamstring stretchers.  To be able to climb to the top of Wayna Picchu, we had to be one of the first 200 people in line, which means there was no time to stop and catch your breath on this hike.  Most people were college aged kids that appeared to be in good shape.  Besides surfing, I have done zero exercise since I've been in South America.  I have also drank about twice as much as College Mike.  I wanted to stop and catch my breath many, many times, but Pauline (who is a phenomenal athlete) didn't stop.  I didn't want the story to be....

Pauline:  "No, we didn't get to climb to the top of Wayna Picchu because my husband is a weakling.  I carried him in my arms for the last half of the hike, but when we got to the entrance Mike realized he forgot his binky so we went back and just stayed in the hotel all day.  We never saw Machu Picchu and we never will because I married a loser."

So I decided that I was going to keep going until I passed out or died.  So partly I was able to make the hike because of pride.  But what got me to keep going even more was something different than pride.  This may sound stupid, but it's absolutely true.  I needed to keep going, I needed to do this for America.  You see, while we were walking and waiting in line, we were talking to all these people from different countries.  No other Americans in sight.  Pauline and I were the sole representatives.  If the Germans, and Canadians, and the French can do it, so can 'Mericans!  I didn't want to reinforce any stereotypes of Americans being fat and lazy.  Freedom isn't free.

Line at 4am to begin trek to Machu Picchu; bus route to MP (hiking trail cuts straight up center); Mike after completing trek

Wildlife of Machu Picchu

Stonework of Machu Picchu was amazing - condor shaped stone in Inca temple; example of how closely stones fit together - they were so tight that no mortar was needed to hold them together

One random note...

So we get back to Cusco, which is the jumping off point to Machu Picchu.

Food in Cusco - Alpaca Meatballs; Mike's favorite - fried Cuy (yes, that's a guinea pig!); Chicha Morada: a delicious spiced drink made from purple corn that tasted similar to my grandma's spiced tea...yum!!; breakfast in Peru - round bread with jelly - day, after day, after day...

I'm sitting at the hostel bar around 11pm, talking with the two owners and a couple fellow travelers.  The national makeup is 1 'Merican (me), 1 Australian, 1 Spaniard, and 2 Peruvians (the owners).  The Australian guy, who I had noticed was drinking during a soccer match at noon, was feeling pretty good.  So we're talking about Machu Picchu, and the Australian says with a big smile, "You know what's really impressive, is that the Spaniards, with only less than 150 men, were able to massacre all those Indians.  I mean, that's terrible what they did, but you have to be impressed that so few men killed all those millions!"  After that the Spaniard went to bed and the conversation turned a little angry.  I guess you could say that it was pretty hostile in the hostel.   bbbwahahaha!  Nailed it!

Other Inca ruins: Sacsayuaman (pronounced "Sexy Woman")
Ollantaytambo ruins

Mike loves jumping in pictures and it is contagious!