July 31, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 2)

With a day in Cusco, I decided to join a tour to visit Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero.

I was instructed to meet at the fountain at Plaza de Armas at 8:40pm to meet the tour guide, but decided to go to the square early to take some morning photos of the square. Little did I know one of the highlight on my trip was about to unfold unexpectedly.

At about 7:30am, commotion started to surround Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus.

People started to pour out of the church with religious banners.

There were men and women dressed in highly decorated cultural costumes but only the men carry stuffed baby llamas on their back and wore white masks. I couldn't tell if the stuffed baby llamas were made from real skin or not.

There was also a live llama, assumed to be the mascot, herded by children.

Other participants were less adorned but just as colourful. The rainbow is a symbol of prosperity to the Quechua as it is closely associated with rain, the bringer of growth and life. The procession danced joyously around the plaza, the bells on their costume jiggled as they threw their whip around.

The procession then gathered at the main squared and cleared a center space where individual dancers threw their whip in an animated fashion.

The youths carry on the tradition.

The leader of the procession (I assume) stated to address the crowds.

He was a mighty man. I especially love this shot of him with the golden statue of the Incan king above his shoulder.

I still do not know what was celebrated, but I suspect that it was related to the Quechua's New Year (Aug 1). I would have loved to stay and watch much more, but unfortunately, it was 8:30am and my tour of Scared Valley awaited.

Our first stop was a small roadside market with some colourful souvenirs. I needed a warmer touque for the trek and purchased a double layered touque for 10 soles. It was a pretty good price.

An hour later, we arrived at the ruins of Inca Pisac. There were farming terraces typical of Incan cities, and temples, quarter for the king, ceremonial altar and school for royals can be found at the very top..

Meanwhile, farmers lived in a separate area above the farming terraces on another hill.

Today, Peruvian farmers settle in the valley instead.

Because a single standard frame couldn't show the whole landscape...

The tour then continued to a silver workshop (tourist trap) and a restaurant for buffet lunch (good but nothing too memorable) before another 1 hour ride until we arrive at Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is Incan city where construction was not complete.

This is my worst nightmare...congestion of tourists and tour groups. But I can't really complain as I contribute to the issue...

These alpacas had ear tags and I was told they were put here to make the area more "authentic".

Across the farming terraces on the opposite hill were other ruins, mostly storage buildings where the Incas store enough food and material to last 3 years of adversities.

Because a single standard frame couldn't show the whole landscape...

Ollantaytambo deserves a whole day. I wish I had the time. The complex was pretty large with lots of areas to explore.

As we returned to the tour bus, two children boarded and sang a song hoping for tips.

We finally arrived at Chinchero by dusk.

The last stop was a demonstration of traditional wool dyeing. It felt like a tourist trap as well.

After the cultural festival in the morning, the tour of Sacred Valley seemed to lack lustre. Perhaps it is the unbelievable number of tourists at each site that puts me off. I wish to have the chance to visit again in the future in a more relaxed and less crowded fashion.

My trekking guide, Hugo, arranged to pick me up at 5am the next morning to begin our Salkantay hike. It was an early night to bed immediately after another chicken soup dinner.

July 30, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 1)

For the past 5 years, Peru has stood very high on my bucket list. I didn't know much about Peru except Machu Picchu, however, a more detailed search revealed great fishing in the Peruvian Amazon at prices much cheaper than most other destinations in the Amazon basin. In 2014, a few friends and I started to explore options for fishing. We had to commit a year in advance, and I did.

However, as I near the completion of graduate school (finally!), thesis deadline and thesis defense soon put the trip into jeopardy. A month before departure, I had started to cancel flights, tours and lodging. Then a miracle occured - I was able to submit my thesis to the committee a week before my initial itinerary, AND most of my committee were away in August such that my defense will likely not occur until September at the earliest. I had the blessing from my supervisor to take 2 weeks off. All of a sudden, I found myself in a fury to rebook everything.

The drama wasn't over yet. On the day of my flight on Aug 28, I took the public transit, a combination of subway and bus, to the airport as I had done many times in the past. On this day, the subway was delayed for 15min and I just missed a bus which further puts me back 30min in total. Upon arriving at the airport, I found congested check-in lines. With Air Canada, you have to print boarding passes and luggage tags at the self-serve kiosk before entering the baggage drop-off line. I missed the baggage cut-off by just 10min, and without my gear, it would be useless going to Peru. In essence, I can't check in my 50lb of gear and I can't get on my flight.

I stayed in another line for another hour just for Air Canada to tell me they don't have an economy-class seats to Lima until Aug 8. Everything was fully booked. However, a quick search online showed a business class one-way flight that would depart the next day. If I were to cancel my trip, I would have lost out close to $1000 in prepaid, non-refundable deposits and flights. If I were to purchase this last minute flight, it would add another $1300 to the trip to my already strained bank account.

I sat on the airport floor at an impasse. I've worked extremely hard to pay for this Peru trip, tutoring almost 5 days a week and even baking cheesecakes every weekend to raise funds at one point. However, I would be unemployed as soon as I finish my graduate program in the next month or so, and the extra $1300 is a month of rent in the future. As I checked back and forth for flights, I saw fewer and fewer available. The decision must be made now and I bit the bullet. I'll just had to tutor much more in the next year to fill in the hole.

Missing this flight also meant I would missed the next day's flight from Lima to Cusco. Another extra $120 later, I pushed the itinerary back a day.

Aug 29

Instead of making the same mistake the day before, I took the taxi to the airport. It's yet another extra $50 that adds to the budget...but I'm not missing the flight twice.

Thankfully, history did not repeat and I got to experience traveling in business class for the first time. The flight connected through San Jose, Costa Rica and our flight to Lima was almost delayed by a wicked storm that thundered for almost 2 hours.

Arriving in Lima at 9pm, I quickly made my way to the hostel and got into bed after 2-days of airport drama.

Aug 30 - official Day 1

Peru has a few low cost national airlines. After reading many reviews online, I feared flight delays and canceled flights by LC Peru as it was one of the worst. However, everything went smoothly and I was in Cusco by 3:30m.

I would stay in Cusco for 2 days and 2 nights to acclimatize to the altitude. It was especially important as I would hike as high as 15000ft in 3 days.

From the Cusco airport to my hostel, I experienced the chaotic traffic of Peru for the first time. Drivers were impatient and it appeared there were little enforcement of traffic laws as cars went every which way the driver wished to travel. When we entered the smaller streets on the hillside, the tight and extremely steep cobble roads often raised my blood pressure as the drivers seemed to navigate through them at rally car speed but with bumper to bumper distances.

Glad to drop off my luggage at the hostel alive and well, I quickly went to the tour company office to pay off outstanding balance, but had a couple hours to burn before my trek briefing.

I took advantage of the soft light at dusk to explore Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

A panorama of the Plaza de Armas.

Returning to the tour office, I was expecting a number of fellow trekkers to gather for our briefing. However, I was the only one present when 8pm arrived. I soon found out we were a small group of 3 initially, but the couple on my trek had to cancel since the wife had severe reaction to the altitude. In essence, I had a private Salkantay trekking tour. My trekking guide, Hugo, explained what to expect for the 4-day tour, and passed me a duffel bag to fill up to 8kg of gear. Anything else I wish to take would have to be carried by me, so I was suggested to only bring the essentials. Temperature could drop to -10C at night for the first night, and at the highest point on the Salkantay Pass it could be close to 0C during the day. Warm clothing would be taking up most of the 8kg on this trip.

Hugo suggested to eat carefully for the next 2 days as I do not wish to get sick just before the trek. He recommended a diet higher in carbs and lower in proteins and fats because the body requires more oxygen to metabolize proteins and fats. For dinner, I orders a very popular Peruvian dish that they seemed to eat any time of the day...the chicken noodle soup.

After dinner, my belongings were strewn across the floor of a 16-person hostel room as essential clothing items were gathered and bare minimum fishing gear was considered before I went to bed.