Monday, July 11, 2011


I got back on Tuesday from a vacation in Peru. It was quite a good time.

We flew in to Lima on Saturday night. After a harrowing ride to the hotel (Peru does not believe in traffic laws or  speed limits; he who is first wins), we got to see my sister (who is in Peru on a semester abroad) for the first time in 4 months.

We spent Sunday walking around Miraflores (a suburb just south of Lima). Miraflores is borderd by the Pacific Ocean on the west, and the 300-foot cliffs are spectacular. The Malecon - a string of small parks and walkways on the edge - is a great place to walk. We also had lunch with my sister's host mom.

Monday we flew out to Cusco, the former Inca capital city. It's at 11,000 feet and gets more UV than any other city on the planet. We were late (Peruvian Airlines is not good at flying when it's bad weather) but got there just in time for our tour of Cusco. It included the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, Coricancha, and Sacsayhuamán. The Spanish colonial stuff is neat, but what truly fascinated me was the Inca architecture. No mortar (for their later works), beautifully cut stone, and it's earthquake-proof.

On Tuesday we spent the day walking around Cusco, eating Peruvian food, and buying stuff. We spent the day taking it easy to get acclimated to the altitude. We actually couldn't sleep well that night, because we closed the window. My brain actually would not let me sleep - first I got nightmares, then my mind was racing and I couldn't sleep, and then my knees hurt. I had to go outside on the patio and walk for a while to get some oxygen, and then after opening the window we all slept.

On Wednesday, we got up early to take the train to Machu Picchu. Our ride did not come, and it took several minutes of me dredging up my best Spanish to convince the hotel concierge that indeed we needed a taxi right then or we would miss our train. (Peru as a country is not big on the concept of "now"). But, we made our train with a minute to spare.

PeruRail runs very nice (if slow) service; our train served a nice breakfast, and the views out the dome car were incredible. The line runs through a steep river valley for almost the whole length. We got off at Km 104 (6 Km from the Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu stop, which is in the valley 1500 feet below the ruins) and met our hiking guide. He was an awesome guide - very funny, and extremely knowledgeable.

After waiting for the next train to meet our hiking companions - a Dutch couple. We hiked up a restored section of Inca trail to Wiñay Wayna, a huge group of ruins located at 8800 feet (2800 feet above where we started, which is a lot of climbing in thin air). It contains dozens of giant agricultural terraces (each 4 fete high, 10 wide, and hundreds long) as well as a group of buildings. It's also located on the steep side of a nearly inaccessible mountain. The Incas were awesome.

From there we joined the more famous section of the Inca Trail, which was a mostly easy climb. (except for the "gringo killer" - 50 nearly vertical steps at 9000 feet. Which I ran up, cause i'm awesome like that.) At 9100 feet we came to the Sun Gate, a narrow pass. From there, the views of Machu Picchu are spectacular. (pictures eventually)

From Intipunku we hiked down to Machu Picchu itself, then took the bus down to Aguas Calientes town, where we had dinner.

Suffice to say you don't want to know the details, but I woke up sick on Thursday morning. We didn't get up early to get tickets to hike up Wayna Pichu (which has great views of the site) but I was healthy enough later to get up and meet our guide for our tour. I can't really describe how amazing the place is; it's just incredible.

(Jim Carrey was also there, randomly. We saw the horde of photographers surrounding him.)

We took the train back to Cusco that night. We opened the windows and I slept well for the first time since Lima.

On Friday we again spent a lot of time waiting for Peruvian Airlines - I derived every possible tiling of the plane that conforms to certain chacteristics while waiting - but we got back in time to go to dinner with my sister. Pardo's makes excellent roasted chicken.

We spent Saturday walking around Miraflores. We took a tour of the Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca pyramid constructed with earthquake-proof design. On Sunday we took the Metropolitano (a very well-designed rapid bus system) into Lima center... and randomly ran into a parade. The Peruvian president was there. Famous people count: 2.

We also went down to Barranco - another suburb - and rode the tram at the Electric Museum. An original Breda tram - very neat.

We flew out on Monday night, got back into Newark. 757s are a wonderful aircraft, but sleeping is not a recommended activity aboard. And tray tables make for awful pillows.

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