Perú

I scribbled more phrases, the pages becoming chicken-scratch notes to anyone but us.  “I’m going to Lima,” I wrote, is, “Yo voy a Lima.” 

Next, the past tense.

Our lesson sprawled across two pages.  When there was no more room, I ripped  out the pages for her to keep. One page tore, leaving behind a piece containing a few sentences. She delicately extracted the missing piece.

“I studied English, but not too much,” she smiled.

Giving an impromptu English lesson in Cusco’s San Pedro Market was one of the moments I’ll always remember. She helped me with my Spanish, and we talked about what it’s like learning a language.

Apart from Cusco’s markets, the streets are full of people selling Chica Morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn, sunglasses, paintings, roasted cuy (guinea pig) and coca toffees. Then there are the drums thundering from the Plaza de Armas, where everyday seems to bring a new festival or gathering. Last night was Carnival de Cusco, with elaborate dancing and masks. The next morning, police lined the steps of the church as teachers staged a peaceful protest for higher wages.

Like most others here, we came for the new Seventh Wonder of the World: Machu Picchu. It started with a two-hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo, a town in Peru’s Sacred Valley. From there, we caught the train to Agua Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu.

Making lunch at the train station.

Peru Rail, which of course isn’t owned by Peru, but by the Orient Express.

Agua Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu.

The next day, Cami and I woke up at 4 am to begin the hike to the top. Flashlight in hand, we began the ascent at 5 am. Two hours later, we reached the top, where the fog and silence were overwhelming.

Sunrise

Every day, over 3,000 people visit Machu Picchu. As the morning continued, so did the flow of tourists. Big, noisy tour groups, pairs of backpackers, children, old, and young couples mixed in the Inca ruins.

No matter how many people arrived, you can always find a quiet spot in this stone labyrynth.

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Desert sun and cliff roads

I’m writing from Arica, Chile, a surf town 12 miles from the Peruvian border. I’ve embarked on a 3 week solo trip to the north of Chile and Peru.  I’ll meet up with a friend in Cusco, but until then, I’m traveling solo.

Buses in Chile are safe and very comfortable, but I just got off a creepy one. The 12-hour overnight trip from San Pedro was eerie.

We left at 8:30 pm, driving into the Atacama desert with nothing but sand dunes under a full moon. We were on the Panamerican Highway, which goes up the coast of South America. And this seemed to be it’s most desolate part.

Sometime during the night, I looked out the window and that saw that the bus was hugging a cliff with no gaurd rail. I was on the second story, and below me was a canyon, hundreds of feet below. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but something about being on a top-heavy bus didn’t sit well. The bus began taking the turns, as we drove past white crosses scattered across the cliffside in memory of others who’d gone over the edge. It was hard to sleep that night.

Apart from the bus ride, the San Pedro de Atacama part of the trip was great. San Pedro is a touristy town in the middle of nowhere in Chile’s Atacama desert. It’s a popular jumping off point for exploring the surrounding area, where the borders of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina intersect.

Here is a bit of life in the driest desert in the world…

One of the main streets in San Pedro

Chile’s is divided into 15 regions. We’re in region 2

Old cars
Photo by Karin Kleine

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I joined some people from the organization StartUp Chile. We all went to swim in Laguna Cejar. The only person who stayed in the water for more than 15 seconds was the Finnish guy we were with. The water was freezing, but floating is easy since it’s so salty.

The Scandinavian braves the ice water. I swear it’s in their DNA.

Salt

Laguna Cejar

Valle de la Muerte.

Valle de la Luna

Chile’s El Tatio geyers are one of the region’s main draws. Along with New Zealand, Iceland, and the USA, Chile has one of the world’s biggest geyser fields.

Since they’re most active at dawn, it meant waking up at 3:30 am to go see them. After the van picked us up at 4 am we began the two hour trip into the Andes mountains.

We’d been warned about how cold it would be up there, so Karin and I joked that we would just wear every piece of clothing we had. (We came pretty close.) My three pairs of socks and seven layers still didn’t keep out the freezing morning.

Once at the geyers, our local guide warned everyone to stay clear from the geyser named “The Killer”, which got its name after several people got too close and fell into the boiling water. (We steered clear.)

But we were tempted to jump into the hot springs with the loads of other tourists. It was such a relief from the cold, and it was funny watching everybody scramble for their clothes after getting out into the cold air. (It wasn’t funny when we had to do it.)

Wearing every layer of clothing possible at El Tatio geyers

9am back down the mountain

Llama crossing on the way back from the geyers

Vicuña sightings!

Stopped in this tiny town on the way back from the geyers.

Coca tea, the local remedy for altitude sickness.

Tomorrow I’m crossing the border into Tacna, Peru. Next up: Cusco and the Sacred Valley.