I miss the jungle terribly, the animals, the work, and the people… But this last week my cousin, Natalie, and her boyfriend, Justin, came to meet up with me in Cusco to do the ever famous Machu Picchu trip. I’ve loved meeting all the new people, but seeing family you’re close to is like putting on an old sweater… Just warm and comfortable.
So we started out in Cusco. Cusco is a beautiful city full of traditionalism and history – the original Inka capital. However, it has also grown to be very touristic. It’s lively and full of shops with gifty things with beautiful patters and textiles. It makes sense as this is the closest major city to Machu Picchu and, of course, the people will capitalize on all opportunities.
There are people walking around in traditional dress with baby sheep and alpaca ready to throw one in your arms for a picture, expecting a tip. (1 Sole/person is sufficient) While I understand this is potentially very lucrative for these people, the animal exploitation bothers me immensely. The babies just look limp and lifeless a lot of the times, probably sore from being handled all day. It’s rather heartbreaking.
As far as finding vegan food in Cusco – that’s really no problem. There is one vegan restaurant – Green Point – and many restaurants with vegan/vegetarian options. One thing to always watch out for is chicken broth in soups. I’m starting to avoid soups for this reason. Some restaurants don’t understand the importance of this. But this can send many veggie folk running straight to the toilet!
We left Cusco and went on to Ollantaytambo where we stayed at the Momma Simona Hostel. It’s a 90 minute bus ride from Cusco and cost 10 Soles (less than $3). Ollataytambo is a small fun town where you can get the train up to Aquas Calientes – the town by Machu Picchu, named for its hot springs. It’s really beautiful here and the hostel has wonderful hammocks with wonderful views of the steep mountains all around.
Our trip to Machu Picchu included two nights in Aquas Calientes at the Supertramp Hostel. It was loud and obnoxious but it was cheap. And what else could be expected with a name like that. But Jessica, the girl who worked the front desk, was great and so helpful! She showed us where to get the bus, where to eat (she’s vegetarian) and all around, easy to work with.
Aquas Calientes is super touristic due to Machu Picchu. It reminded me a lot of Gatlinburg, TN. “The Gateway to Machu Picchu”? The scenery is beautiful though.
Our Machu Pucchu trip included the “Waynapiccu” hike. Natalie booked it and I thought it was just a little walk. I was wrong. I was so wrong. It was a mountain. A mountain of stone steps. I wore Keds… Keds are not designed to climb mountains of stone steps. However, I made it to the top with no blisters and no sore feet. Thankfully my feet have gotten stronger in recent years. It was over 200 flights according to my phone pedometer.
Machu Picchu was beautiful and magical and all the things everyone says when they see it. It was a second capital to the Inkas, where they could retreat as needed. The Sacred Valley is just stunning and refreshing with all of its beautiful landscapes. Also, as a tip, if you go somewhere that has a temple to the sun… Wear sunscreen. It just makes sense.
To end our time together, we returned to Ollantaytambo for a few days to enjoy the nice little town and surrounding areas. We decided to book an ATV tour out to a waterfall and luckily Elsa, my dear friend I met in the jungle, was in town and free to join! The guide said it would include a quick 20 minute walk to the waterfall so I decided to don my Keds again…
We ride for about an hour through the valley and the scenery is so stunning. Eventually we get to a point where we park the ATVs and start walking. I’ve now learned to never listen to the locals about distance, time, or incline. I again was faced with climbing a mountain in Keds and this was not as easy. Loose dirt and rocks made the trek interesting to say the least! But the reward was worth it. The waterfall was so beautiful. But then I had to come down off the mountain. I managed to stay mostly upright.
So Natalie and Justin left today to make their way home. I’ve had so much fun with them and made some great memories. I’m going to miss my sweet cousin so much as were so close and she always knows how to make me laugh!
(In Peru, we wear what we want!)
I meet up with the boyfriend (who’s visiting on vacation) today for my next big adventure. We’re traveling to Huaraz, Peru to hike the Santa Cruz Trek. It hits nearly 15k feet in elevation. This should be interesting!