Arriving in Peru: She’s so high, high above (sea), she’s so lovely

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

WE ARE IN OLLANTAYTAMBO!

After sleeping/squatting in the Lima airport and eating way too much greasy airport food, we are FINALLY here.

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We boarded our flight to Cusco at 5:30 AM, and I was so #blessed to be seated behind a psycho bitch who reclined her chair all the way back, slamming into my legs repeatedly throughout the flight. At least the flight was short – about an hour – and we had beautiful views of the Andes mountains poking through the clouds, the lush, rolling green hills of Peru, and the small villages dotting the countryside.

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Once we landed, we exchanged some money and got a taxi to take us to a collective stop. Well, Collin got the taxi. Kevin and I have quickly come to realize that our inability to speak Spanish renders us completely useless (it took me 15 minutes to order ice cream last night, and I’m still not sure what flavor it was). Although the driver bugged us for a while to let him drive us all the way to Ollantaytambo ($$$), we declined and were soon thrown (literally, by large men) into the back of a small car without seatbelts. Kevin, Collin, and I smushed together in the backseat while Jonathan, a funny Peruano about our age, sat in the front seat. Luckily for us, he spoke really good English, and we were able to have a great conversation.

Get this: he went to college to become a Machu Picchu tour guide. Collin the UGuide suppressed his comments. Wow.

Despite what I can only imagine is a very different college experience, he was very in touch with our thoughts. “College is great. There are girls there. You drink with your buddies there. Then, you leave, and you just work, work, work.” Amen, Jonny.

After the most terrifying car ride of my life (there are evidently no traffic laws in Peru, or penalties for reckless driving) we were dropped off in Ollantaytambo, just down the street from our hostel. We bid farewell to Jonathan, who went to the train station to continue his commute to Machu Picchu. Thirsty and tired, we popped into the adorable Café Tawas for americanos. We settled ourselves in the plush upstairs area, complete with cushioned benches, bamboo decor, and glass walls that offered a beautiful view of the town. We were the only people there who were not railroad employees, who sat in uniform eating from the breakfast buffet and watching Peruvian talk shows on the boxy tv in the corner.

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Once we finished our coffee and paid, we grabbed our bags and headed up to street to Las Orquideas Hostel to check in. The woman at reception informed us that we were to early to check in, but allowed us to drop our bags off in what appeared to be a dungeon (and quickly change into shorts – it’s about 80 degrees and sunny!) before setting out to explore the town. Starving, we set off in search of lunch (at 10:15 AM – rough nights at the airport will do this to you).

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We wandered around Ollantaytambo, which is very small and quaint, boasting a square of shops and restaurants at its center, a small town market, and local artisans who roam the streets, trying to sell their wares to tourists. We found a good-looking café attached to a hostel and ordered chicken empanadas, omelets with toast (and AWESOME butter), and our first coca tea! (Note: coca tea and coca leaves pretty much taste like grass. But they are said to help with altitude sickness, and we weren’t taking our chances). The food was DELICIOUS and amazingly cheap – we each paid about $4 US.

My favorite part of Peru so far is that there are stray dogs EVERYWHERE. And they’re not mangy, they’re adorable (ok, some of them are mangy). I befriended the cutest little husky puppy at lunch, whom I affectionately named Carlos. I think I’m going to bring him home.

We also spotted a group of Asian tourists. Kevin felt right at home.

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Once we paid our bill, we finally checked into our hostel. We sat out in the grassy courtyard full of orchids (orquideas! I know some Spanish!) while the owner brought our bags to our room. This is a nice hostel – we have our own room with 3 beds, our own bathroom, and our own shower (free towels and soap, too!). We quickly settled and changed into hiking clothes before heading to the Sacred Valley.

To get in, we needed to by tourist tickets (Boletos turisticos), which give you access to 16 sites around the region, mostly in Cusco. Being a student gets you a significant discount, but we had heard horror stories about not accepting American student IDs. We, however, had no problem; Kevin and Collin were even able to buy without their passports, using their US drivers licenses. Each boleto costs S/.70, about $23 USD. Worth it!

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Sacred Valley was awesome. Pictures cannot do it justice – the whole thing was beautiful, and it was amazing how the Incans built this (and everything else) WITHOUT THE WHEEL. Wow. I must say, though, that altitude is REAL. I’m in great shape and do a ton of hiking, and I was out of breath within minutes. You need to take frequent breaks and practice strong breath control. However, this did not deter us from deciding to hike to an even higher Incan artifact that we spotted in a mountain across town. Satisfied with the 200 pictures we’d taken of Sacred Valley, we set off to the other mountain.

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After grabbing a few water bottles, we were off, searching for the other mountain’s trail (we found the entrance through a fence at the edge of town). We were a few steps along the path (or up the path – the whole thing was straight up and down) when we ran into a dude who we called “The Stoner.” Dude was chill as can be. He wanted to take us on a guided tour of the mountain for S/.40, but we were tired and decided to save the full hike for the next day. We walked on a bit further, then headed back down. On our way out, The Stoner recommended that we check out “Cuy’s Restaurant” for dinner. Sounded good to us!

We grabbed drinks in town and Kevin and Collin each got a chicken skewer from a street vendor (66 cents each!). I opted for getting a mojito instead (what is protein?). It was SO good and refreshing and exactly what I needed. We got back to the room and all slept for a much needed three hours.

We woke up at 6:30 PM – dinner time! We couldn’t find Cuy’s, and we were starving, but wanted to stray away from the touristy (expensive) restaurants. We walked into a restaurant full of locals (no idea what the name is), took a seat, and were approached by the waiter.
Collin: “Tres menus, por favor!”
Waiter: “Tres?”
Collin: “Si!”

The waiter returned shortly with 3 bowls of steaming beef noodle soup and no menus. Maybe this was like the bread basket? We dug in anyway. The soup was delicious, served with limes and a spicy salsa. Still no menus in sight, the waiter brought us three plates that each had a potato, rice, and some sort of beef in the BEST gravy I’ve ever had. I want to smother everything with that gravy. At this point we had come to the conclusion that we were being served some sort of menu of the day (menu del diá!) because everyone else in the restaurant was also eating the same thing. One we finished our main dishes, we received mugs of a very sweet tea that we’re still not sure about. It might have been papaya. It also might have just been sugar.

When we (Collin) asked for the price, we were astonished to hear that it was S/.22.5 for the WHOLE thing. Less than $8 USD for all of us?! #buriedtreasure!!!

We paid our measly sum and set out in search of a bar. After finding all of them empty, we decided to just grab some beers and head back to the hostel to play blackjack in the courtyard. Once we were adequately tired (9 PM), it was bedtime.

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