Sunday, June 29, 2014

Peru: Day Six - Part One

We woke up that morning at 2 a.m. to catch our flight to Cusco, waking up a taxi driver sleeping on a couch in the hostel lobby. After arriving at the airport, we were informed that we had been bumped to a slightly later flight, so we had another half an hour or so to wait.

The flight was only a couple of hours, and on our way out of the airport, we came across a booth with a woman signing people up for tours of the Sacred Valley, which was exactly what we wanted to do that day. We paid for the day long tour, which included lunch, and were informed that the bus would pick us up at our hotel in about an hour. Perfect!

We took a cab to our hotel, and on the way I absolutely fell in love with Cusco. The city has retained the original Spanish colonial feel (for the tourists, of course) and it was so gorgeous. I really felt like we were suddenly somewhere in Spain, until I saw the house climbing up the hills in traditional Peruvian fashion. We arrived at our hotel (we had booked a hotel in advance so we would have somewhere trustworthy to leave our backpacks), and they were kind enough to hold our bags while we were gone, since it was too early for check-in. A man at the hotel offered us some coca leaf tea, used to relieve altitude sickness, but as we were both feeling pretty good, we politely declined.

The bus picked us up, along with several lovely couples and our English-speaking tour guide (thank goodness). Our guide was a lovely man named Javier, who spoke fantastic English (we later discovered, through discussion, that his first language had been Quechua, the Inca language, and that made it easier to learn English).

The bus drove through the Sacred Valley, which was very green (the name of the valley comes from the Sacred River; sacred because it brought the water necessary to grow the best corn in Peru). We stopped briefly at an outdoor market where Bergs bought the fabulous knife below, decorated with sheep components (hair, teeth, horn) and this lovely overlook. I also took some pictures of the Incan terraces on the hillside. The terraces began naturally, but the Incas improved them to decrease erosion.

Our first official stop was Pisaq. I've decided that in the interest of saving space and the time of my dear readers, I will include Wikipedia links for those who would like more historical information, and focus more on the pictures and experience. You can read about Pisaq here. Here is a close-up view of the terraces, and some houses.

These are tombs. Each small hole is a tomb for a poor person. The finer openings are for rich people. Everywhere in Incan architecture, the rougher stones are for poor people, and the well carved stones are for rich people or temples.

This is me "leaning".

Next up: Ollantaytambo! The temple to the Sun God. There were over 200 steps to the very top. This city was a customs check of sorts for anyone travelling to the Incan Empire. They would be required to check in at this city. Here is the view from the bottom, and a structure across the valley. The shape on the left is a face in the mountain. It is another example of a natural formation that the Incas improved upon.

Next are steps that were used to get from one terrace to the next, and the official entrance to the temple.

Handles used to carry the stones, a storage space, and another door.

The ramp used to pull the stones up (and a more modern bull fighting ring) and me standing at the top in front of some gigantic stones, so close together that you couldn't even slide a piece of paper between them. It was amazing.

Proof of the lack of safety railings, and another view from the bottom.

A recently discovered aqueduct, a bathing house, and yet another bottom view.

Another street market, and the customs doors (I had to take this picture as we were driving away, and a van drove in front of us, most inconveniently).

I'm going to call it good for this post, as there are still so many more pictures for day six.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Peru: Day Five

Day five! This was a calmer day. We spent the majority of it on a bus back to Lima. This time, however, we took a fancy bus! They even checked our bags. We had fancy seats, with pillows and blankets, and screens for each seat to watch movies and check Facebook. They also served us lunch. There weren't very many exciting movies, but I did get to watch Star Trek. And it was even in English!

The ride was really great. There was an incident where I was trying to figure out how to open the lavatory to exit, and then the bus quickly rounded a corner and I was violently thrown out into the bus. That was a good time.

We got to Lima and had time to do some sight-seeing. One of the cathedrals that we were hoping to tour was closed, but we did get to tour a cathedral that had catacombs underneath! We barely got in to the last tour. I was literally running across the courtyard (and jumped over the ledge of the threshold) to get there in time. That cathedral was really cool (and slightly creepy) to see. We couldn't take any pictures in there, but here is the website. Outside, the nice missionaries took some pictures of us. I also got a really gorgeous shot of the Peruvian "White House".

After the touring, we went in search of dinner. There's a large shopping center and we found a McDonald's! Which was exciting. Here's a fun fact about Peruvian money: everything is cheaper in Peru. Here's a fun fact about McDonald's in Peru: rather than making their prices in line with everything else in Peru, they just converted the dollar prices into soles. As such, McDonald's is actually a pretty pricey place. I paid as much for my dinner there as I did in the fancy restaurant in Huancayo. Bergs mentioned that the high price actually makes McDonald's a nice place to take a date, as was made evident by the couple making out directly in my line of was quite awkward.

And that was pretty much day five. We got to the hostel early because we had to catch a super early flight to Cusco in the morning. Highlights of that hostel: the shower did have some hot water, but the glass door between the shower and the rest of the room was not properly lined, so we covered it with a towel. Good times.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Peru: Day Four

Day four was Sunday, and I was so glad. At this point in our journey, my phone had been stolen and I hadn't had a hot shower the whole trip (hostel desk clerks kept insisting there was hot water, and it was always a lie! Plus the shower the night before had a moldy shower curtain. Gross). I was also homesick for the place where I spoke the language and toilets had seats. Needless to say, I needed a Sunday.

We got dressed up and met Clariza and her kids at their house before going on to the church. It was a short walk through town. I was a little thrown off at the gate surrounding the building (though not too thrown, since everything else had been gated). As soon as we entered the building, though, I felt right at home. The building was a little different from the ones back home, but it was definitely recognizable as an LDS church, and the same Spirit was definitely there. Of course, I still didn't understand what anyone said, but it was nice to sit in a familiar place.

There was no pianist, so the chorister gave us a starting count for the hymns. It was so wonderful to hear melodies that I knew, and so wonderful to be able to take the sacrament in such a faraway place. I must admit to tearing up a bit here and there. The meeting ended with Bergs' favorite hymn, "In Our Lovely Deseret". This was a total coincidence, so Bergs and I were cracking up when I realized what we were singing.

We only stayed for sacrament meeting, so afterwards we went back to Clariza's to change and have lunch. She was going to make us ceviche, chicken style. Bergs was very protective of the food we ate, and she was also kind enough to mention to Clariza that I didn't like onions and peppers. I was really excited. And while Clariza prepared the ceviche, the children put in church movies and let me watch them in English! It was pretty great.

The ceviche was quite the experience. Overall, it was delicious, but Bergs didn't realize that I also don't like celery. Not wanting to offend anyone, I was determined to eat as much as possible. I tried to convince myself that it was raw potato and not celery. I did a pretty good job, but it eventually was too much. I did enjoy the chicken and the lime flavor. It was really good. Here are the pictures of my dish, and Bergs', which was made the correct way.

We also had yucca, which was really good, and mangoes! A whole mango, eaten with a spoon. That was the greatest mango of my life.

After lunch, some members from the ward came to visit. Their bishop, who wasn't much older than us, knew some English and spoke to me a little bit. Clariza's kids were also learning English, but they were better at writing, so they wrote me questions and I wrote them answers.

When the ward members left, we went to do some visits, including this stop at the apartment Bergs lived in.

There was also a lovely woman named Miriam who owned a pink salon in front of her home. She gave us Inca Kola and handmade napkin holders made out of gourds.

We went back to Clariza's to pick up our backpacks; I was slightly exhausted and ready to eat a granola bar for dinner and go to bed. We had decided to splurge and stay in a hotel that night in order to have hot water, plus the hostel the night before had been a little chilly. Clariza surprised us, however, by announcing that she and the ward members were going to give us a farewell pizza party! I was pretty excited because there was cheese involved (still a little homesick at this point), but Bergs advised me to be cautious because the pizza probably would have no cheese and sliced up hot dogs....but it did have cheese! And sliced ham! That pizza was so wonderful. And it was so great to be surrounded by so many fantastic ward members. They were all so excited to see Bergs, and so nice to me. Every one gave me a hug. I even got to watch part of Despicable Me 2 in Spanish!

And there's day four. I even got it all in one post!

P.S. The hotel clerk claimed that they had hot water 24 hours a day...except it needed to take 10 minutes to heat up. Ten minutes came and hot water.