Monday, June 30, 2008

Machu Pichu

This weekend, I went to the wonderful and beautiful Machu Picchu. Talk about the trip of a lifetime (and a trip everyone should make in their lifetime!).

Katie, Natalie, and I left early Saturday morning since our train left at 6. We were picked up by someone from our travel agency at 5 and took a taxi to the train station. Things went smoothly there and we were able to board our train with time to spare. We had upgraded our train tickets since the Backpacker train was sold out but for the extra thirty dollars we definitely got our money worth. The train reminded me a lot of first class in an airplane and was a nice way to make the trip. It was infinitely better then the bus ride to Lake Titicaca.
When we arrived at Aguas Calientes we were met at the train station by someone from our hotel. We took a short walk through town and arrived at a nice hotel with view overlooking the city. Aguas Calientes is a very disorganized town that was created to handle the influx of tourists to Machu Pichu. Despite its run down appearance it still is beautiful since it is completely surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Absolutely gorgeous.

After we settled into the hotel we decided to walk around the town and see what we could find. We found the main plaza and had the lunch we had packed that morning (bread, a can of tuna, fruit and crackers). We went looking for some trails that we had read about in my guide book but were unable to find any of them. Regardless, I think we walked on almost every street in Aguas Calientes. After doing a bit of shopping, we were exhausted but still had a lot of time to kill before our Machu Pichu guide was going to meet us to explain what we should expect the next day. We found a restaurant that played movies for free and enjoyed a boot legged copy of Ocean´s 13. I fell asleep for a good part of it.

After the movie we walked back to the hotel to relax and freshen up before meeting our guide and going out for supper. I enjoyed one of my first hot showers in almost four weeks and vowed to stay in the shower until I ran out of hot water. It was an excellent thirty minutes.

Around 7:30 we met our guide, who informed us that we need to be in the main plaza by 5:30. She gave us a little more information and then we headed to a restaurant we had read about in my guidebook. We enjoyed our three course meal for 15 soles (around five dollars) and returned to go to bed early. I was sleeping by 10.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 (again!) and staggered upstairs for the continental breakfast. It was mainly fruit and bread but the best part was freshly squeezed orange juice. We then checked out of the hotel and arranged for our bags to be delivered to the train station.

We met up with our group in the main plaza and then walked over to the bus station. The buses were a lot nicer then I had expected, which is good since the drive up to Machu Pichu is steep and sometimes dangerous. The road is only one lane in most places and if a bus meets another bus or car one of them has to back up to a place where the road is wide enough and allow the other one to pass. A bit scary at first! The ride was absolutely gorgeous and breathe taking. The twenty five minute ride went by quickly as I sat in awe thinking about the beauty around me.

When we arrived at Machu Pichu our group was split into two groups, English speaking and Spanish. We were then given a two hour tour of the ruins, including the opportunity to see the sun rise over the mountains. It´s hard to describe how beautiful the ruins are or how immense they really seem in real life. I took A LOT of pictures but am unfortunately having problems uploading any of them. So until I can figure that out all I can say is that I was not disappointed by what I saw.

When our tour ended around 10, Natalie, Katie, and I sat and had a quick snack and just soaked in some of the beautiful views. We then took a very complicated walk to the restrooms and then walked back to the entrance to Waynu Pichu. We got in line in order to be let into the second group of people to climb the mountain. Only four hundred people are allowed to climb Waynu Pichu each day and we didn´t want to miss our chance. We were pretty safe because when we signed in we were hikers numbers 201, 202, and 203.

The hike up Waynu Pichu is steep and sometimes dangerous. It took us over an hour (which is pretty average) and involved a ridiculous number of steps and a cave in which I pretty much had to slide on my stomach. When we reached the top the views made it totally worth it as did the sense of accomplishment that we all felt. We enjoyed the views, took some awesome pictures, and then headed back down. The trip back down was equally (if not more dangerous) at points since some of the steps were very little and steep. At one point, we even had to just slide down part of the rock face!

After our trip down from Waynu Pichu we found a nice place in the sun and had our lunch (which was identical to lunch from the day before). We then took a break and soaked in the sun, marveling at the fact that we were sunbathing at Machu Pichu. When we finally regained our energy went and did some exploring around the residential section of MP before Katie and I had to catch a bus back to Aguas Calientes.

The trip home was fairly uneventful and we arrived home, had supper, and went straight to bed!

The famous, postcard photo of Machu Pichu. The big mountain in the background is Waynu Pichu, the one I climbed.

Machu Pichu ruins. 60 percent of the city is still intact and 75 percent of what you see is original Incan architecture.

The Andes are goregous!

Natalie, me and Katie when we were almost to the top of Waynu Pichu

Me on the very very top of Waynu Pichu. You can see the ruins of Machu Pichu to the left.

We were very tired after our long day...

In case anyone is thinking that I´m spending all of my time traveling off to ancient ruins, or going to festivals and fairs, I wanted to post some before and after pictures from the work we´ve been doing at the orphanage.

It was Fuzz´s birthday on Sunday and I didn´t want her to think I had forgotten about her. So, for Fuzz... HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

On the train...

In Aguas Calientes...
At Machu Pichu... And on the top of Waynu Pichu...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Muchas Fiestas

Since the internet stopped working last time I updated, I thought I would put up a few more pictures from my weekend at Lake Titicaca.

The sunset on Amantani

Me on Taquile, the third island we visited
Our Lake Titicaca group: Regan, Katie, Heidi, Me, Jenae, and Caroline

Me and Katie in the bus station in Puno
Monday morning, Katie, Heidi and I ventured to Maximo Nivel to update our blogs and send some e-mails. Once we were kicked off of the computers we decided to walk down to the Plaza to see what was going on. Tuesday was a big celebration in Cuzco called Inti Raymi and there had been parades and celebrations building up to it for the past week. We caught part of the day long parade that was going on and got some good pictures.
In the afternoon, Katie and I forced ourselves out of the house (actually, Katie forced me out of the house) to go to a fair that was happening in Cuzco. I´m really glad we went because it was a lot less touristy then many other locations in Cuzco and I think I only saw a handful of gringos there. The fair reminded me of the Sheboygan County Fair... there were lots of animals, rides, food, and things for sale.
Part of the fair
A lamb
A hippy hobo Alpaca Cuy (aka Guinea pig)
Tuesday morning, we left early in order to get good seats for Inti Raymi. The festival is held in some ruins outside of Cuzco and it required some work to get there. Most of the taxis weren´t allowed to bring tourists to the ruins and we had a hard time figuring out how we were supposed to get there.
We finally arrived at 9:30 and had four hours to kill until the actual celebration began at 1:30. The hillside we were on filled up quickly and I´m glad we got there so early.
My housemates: Natalie, Katie, me and Heidi
It was hard to follow what was actually happening during Inti Raymi because everything is spoken in Qechua, the local Indian language. It was a cool experience, though.

The Inti Raymi festival

My favorite part was when a bunch of locals broke through the police line and flooded a hill. It was fairly entertaining.

The hill before...

And after...

Our Inti Raymi group: three friends of Natlie´s, Natalie, Katie, and me

Today we´re starting our new project at the orphanage. We decided to paint all of the playground equiptment at the orphanage to help try to make it look a little nicer and maybe give the girls a sense of pride about thier home and playground. So we´re now going to be at the orphanage an extra two hours a day, trying to get some painting done before the girls get home from school.

More later...

Monday, June 23, 2008

This DEFINITELY WAS an adventure!

This weekend, I went to a place called Lake Titicaca with five other friends from here. We decided last minute to go and booked the trip on Wednesday through a travel agency we found off of the Plaza. For more information about Lake Titicaca, check out the always reliable Wikipedia (

Our bus left Cuzco at 10:00 Friday night. We had been told that our seats would recline into beds but when we boarded the bus they barely moved. It was a pretty uncomfortable trip. Trying to sleep on buses is hard enough but it was also very cold too. Not a good set of circumstances.
Me and Heidi
(Heidi lives in the same homestay as I do)

Caroline and Regan
(Caroline and Regan were picked up at the airport the same time I was)

Jenae and Katie
(Jenae and Katie have Spanish classes together. Jenae also lives at the same homestay as Regan and Caroline and Katie is my friend from Whitewater)

We arrived in Puno at 5:30. A guide met us at the bus station. We had been told that he was going to take us to his warm office so we could wait there until our tour started at 8. Instead, he brought us up to a food court/restaurant in the bus station and told us he would return at 7:30. We waited it out and watched the sunrise over the Lake. The bus station, like everything else in Peru, wasn´t heated and we were all very cold. When our guide finally did return he brought us outside so we could wait in the sun instead.

Waiting for our guide to return...

We finally left for our tour around 8. Our guide brought us down to where all of the boats were and we were able to find ours without much of a problem We boarded the boat and were off.

Leaving Puno

Our first stop was a group of islands called Uros. The Uros islands are man made and are built using natural materials. They are called ¨Floating Islands¨ because the people who live on them are able to unanchor them if they need to and move them to a different part of the lake. On Uros we were given a brief demonstration by the mayor of the island about how the islands were built and about what the people on the islands ate (fish and reeds). Afterwards, we were given tours of some houses on the islands and were able to just walk around.

A model of the Uros islands. The brown foundation is made from a plant that the people grow and then multiple blocks of it are anchored together. Reeds are placed on top and then the people build their houses on top of the reeds.

A traditional style house. Everything is made out of reeds!

After wandering around the island for awhile we took a reed boat to another island in the Uros area. The new one was more developed and had a hotel, grocery store, restaurant and church.

The grocery store

Our boat

We left Uros and boarded our boat again. We knew we were headed out to Amantani but were unsure of how long it would take to get there. Heidi, Katie, and I decided to go on top of the boat for the trip in order to get the best views. The trip seemed to stretch on forever and after awhile we were all thinking about Giligan and his three hour tour. We finally spotted land again after what seemed like forever.

The second island: Amantani

Amantani was gorgeous and probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been too. The whole island is terraced to allow the people to grow their own food and use every bit of land possible. Cows, horses, and sheep just wander around the island, going wherever they can find grass and water.

We spent the evening on Amantani and had most of the afternoon to wander around. After we were settled into our house, I decided to sit outside and read for while. It was really nice to relax by myself for awhile and it reminded me of the hours spent reading by the lake up north. It was nice to be somewhere so quiet after spending time in Cuzco where car horns are used liberally. Since there are no cars on any of the islands I visited, it was very peaceful.

Lunch on Saturday. Potatoes, more potatoes, and cheese.


After the sunset on Saturday, Caroline, Jenae, Regan and I walked to the main Plaza on Amantani. It was dark by the time we got there and I´m suprised none of us were seriously injured while wandering down the rocky path. The Plaza was nice but nothing too remarkable. We met up with Katie and Heidi and walked back to our houses with the help of my homestay brother and a flashlight.

While waiting for supper, I went outside to look at the stars. It was absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring. Since there is very little electricity on the island it was very dark outside and you were able to see so many stars. If nothing else, that time made the whole trip worth it.

After supper, our homestay mom came in and gave us ponchos to put on. We were then brought to a party that was being held for the tourists. The other girls were all dressed up in traditional dresses but our group had been given ponchos... they were really warm so we didn´t complain. The party wasn´t too exciting but the music was very pretty. It was being played by some young boys who lived on the island.

The next morning we left at 8 to go to another island, Taquile. When we arrived, we took a hike on some long winding paths and finally arrived at the main plaza. There we were able to do some shopping and enjoy the views of the lake. After our time at the Plaza, we took another hike to a restaurant that overlooked the lake. Everyone in my group was feeling to cheap to pay for two meals in one day, so we enjoyed the views and waited for everyone else to finish.

One of the paths we hiked on. The paths on Amantani were alot like this also.

Once everyone was done eating, we hiked back down to where our boat was waiting for us. We boarded the boat and settled in for the long trip back. The ride back to Puno was more enjoyable, probably becuase I had found a spot outside that I could sit without being hit by the wind. I passed the time reading and enjoying the views.

When we arrived back in Puno, one of the girls in our group began complaining about not feeling well. We walked back to the bus station and picked up our tickets for our return trip home. While I got the tickets, Caroline and Regan helped Jenae find a room she could rent for a few hours and take a nap. Then, since our bus did not leave for a few hours, the five of us went for a walk around Puno looking for a place to have supper. We eventually found a really nice restaurant and had a good meal.

When we arrived back at the bus statoin, Jenae still was not feeling better and Regan was beginning to feel sick as well. Thankfully, we were able to board our bus and everyone was able to sit down and relax. The buses we took were double decker and on the way home Heidi and I lucked out and were assigned the seats in the front. Not only did we get some good views before it became too dark but I was also able to stretch out my legs.

The ride home was cold, uncomfortable, and noisy. We seemed to make a lot of random stops that lasted for a long time. At one point, we were stopped for over an hour. We finally arrived back in Cuzco at 4:30 in the morning! We happily found a cab, paid too much for the short ride home, and stumbled sleepily into our beds.

I have so many more pictures I wish I could put on here but the internet is just running way too slow. I guess you may need to wait until I get home to see how gorgeous Lake Titicaca was.

Today and tomorrow are national holidays in Peru, filled with parades and general craziness. My next post will have to be about all of the Inti Raymi festivities that have been going on for the past week.

More later...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Orphanage Updates...

I realized today that I haven´t written too much about what is going on at the orphange so I thought I would write an update on what we have been up to the past few days.

On Tuesday, I brought a 64 box of crayons that my Mom had gotten the girls. The girls went absolutely crazy and had a great time coloring. There weren´t too many fights over colors and Heidi and I made sure that none of the girls were hoarding the colors. As always, it was hard to get across the idea that we had to share the crayons with everyone but they eventually started to understand and work better together. Perhaps it was a step in the right direction. I returned home that evening with a whole stack of beautiful artwork that I will be bringing home to share.

This is what happens when you give away crayons:

Yesterday, we played the girls favorite outdoor game, Pesca Pesca. It is a lot like Freeze Tag except you play as a team and there are safe bases. A lot of fun and very tiring (for the volunteers, not the girls!). It´s always interesting playing a game with the girls because they are very easily distracted and will suddenly drift away to an activity that looks more interesting.

After our game of Pesca Pesca dissolved, I headed to the back building, which is used as a study hall. I helped one of the girls with her homework (thinking of nouns... tough stuff!) and we had a good time arguing about how to spell my name. None of the girls believe me that it is spelt Beth and try to spell it various other ways, including Baz and Paz.

Our usual duties at the orphanage are just playing with the girls or helping with homework, when necessary. Most of the time the girls know how to do their homework but just need someone sitting with them making sure they stay on task and get finished. As for playing, the girls love to color and run around outside.

In general, things at the orphanage are going well. The girls are always excited to see us and love the one on one attention we are able to offer. I want to work with them on how to share their toys and take care of the toys that they do have. If anyone has any ideas on how to accomplish these goals please let me know.

More later...