It took awhile for me to feel well enough (and to have time) to post about this last weekend, but it is about time that I got this together! Last weekend was the weekend to go to Macchu Picchu. This was a two-day trip with an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes. We met at the USIL campus at 10:25am to take a bus to Ollantaytambo to take the Peru Rail train to Aguas Calientes. Then, we got to wait for about half an hour for the last person to arrive. It was pretty lucky that we weren’t late for the train! Apparently, he had set his alarm for PM instead of AM. I felt kind of bad for him until I heard that he had gotten black-out drunk the night before. Then I was just irritated that I had to sit across the aisle from the guy who almost made us late when he stank from drinking the night before (he may have still been drunk, judging from the volume he was speaking in…) Still, we got to the train station and were off to Aguas Calientes! The train ride there was interesting. All of the windows in the ceiling seemed like a really cool idea until I got in the train. Then I realized that is was like those home-made ovens we made in Girl Scouts. On the plus side, we got free drinks and snacks like on an airplane. I got a pretty good banana muffin and water. The town was fascinating to see. It is a very busy tourist area because it is the only town that you can go directly to Macchu Picchu from by bus (I’m not sure how hiking differs in this regard). Directly off of the train, we went to the hotel as a group. We went through this huge, sprawling maze of stalls selling merchandise (although I have read in enough places that it is all similar, if not the same, as in Cusco except for the price tags that I didn’t plan on buying anything unless something really caught my eye!). The town itself had the same interesting (and kind of dirty) stones as Cusco, but there was also a river going directly through the town with at least three bridges. What was the most interesting about this town to me was the stark difference between the near-distance and the far-distance. Everything close-by was very familiar because of my time in Cusco, but it was surrounded by some of the wildest wilderness I have ever seen. Everything around the town was dense and unprocessed looking. In the hotel, we were given further instructions and a map with directions marked to four or five restaurants of varying price ranges that our guide recommended based on their having safe food for tourists. We were given rooms with two people per room. I ended up rooming with a girl who is staying with a family instead of at La Casa de Don Ignacio. She was really nice and I thought that we got along really well. It was too bad that it was only for one night! The room was really nice looking. The beds were huge and fluffy. Towels were arranged on the end of the beds with a candy. I got a flower pattern and a coconut candy. My roommate had a turtle, I think. We had a wonderful view out of our room of a wall with a giant Spiderman poster. The bathroom was equally nice and had tremendous water pressure! I had decided, even before going to the city, that I wanted to eat at Indio Feliz. This is a french restaurant run by a man who came to Peru from France close to 50 years ago. It is also the most expensive restaurant in the area. But, everything was supposed to be pricy, so I figured that I might as well spend a lot of money on nice french food instead of the same food that I’ve been eating in Cusco. I’d looked at the website and everything looked really good! The entrance was down an alleyway, and based on my expectations for the restaurant it looked far too cluttered. The first room that you enter is even more cluttered than the outside. Every inch of available space is coated with business cards or foreign currency. You can see a little of that from the door’s window, but inside there were far fewer gaps between the cards. At this point I kind of wavered on the idea of eating here, but if I were to go elsewhere I would have to decide on something and find it. I decided to stick with Indio Feliz. Inside, there were two menus. One for ordering individual items and one for the set menu that included an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. I had trouble deciding, but I ended up going with the set menu. I almost got an entree and dessert because I wanted the “Floating Island” dessert (I have never had it, but I’ve always wanted to have it), but the cost of the entree and dessert would have been more than the set menu. While I was waiting for my food some fresh bread was brought out. It was an interesting type of bread. It was a bunch of tiny, thick bread sticks. A clay jar of butter had been sitting on the table with a tightly sealed lid on it. It was very good bread and butter, so I started to chow down. I soon realized that that was a big mistake. While I ate bread and waited for more food I had time to observe the restaurant. This room wasn’t the one with the business cards, but it was equally cluttered in its own way. It had a nautical theme. The table had a compass on it that you can see a little of in the bread pictures. The theming was fascinating. It seemed to focus on nautical themes, but then I would notice something out of place (like a foot-tall wooden frog with a cowboy hat…). Every inch of the restaurant was covered with some sort of detail, painted or an object. Here, the bar is just as busy as the rest of the place. There are even a couple of cut-up rain boots nailed to part of the bar. This is a bit like those find the hidden object games, isn’t it? I particularly liked the fireplace details. Here you can see more details above the fireplace. There is a wine bottle dressed up with metal to look like a ships captain. You can also see two out of three of the “see/hear/speak no evil” cherubs painted there. This statue here looked like it was the figurehead on a ship. Then, my first course came out. It was huge! It could have easily fed two people by itself, let alone being one out of four courses for just me! I had ordered the Chaski Salad which was described as steamed vegetables with a hardboiled egg. I had wanted the fresh vegetable salad because of the salad dressing it came with, but I was a little concerned about the raw vegetable bit. As it turned out, the steamed vegetables also came with the same dressing. The plate included steamed green beans, steamed carrot slices, sliced avocado, boiled and spiced potatoes, a boiled egg, cauliflower, sautéed mushrooms (they were really good), a cooked tomato half with cheese melted on top, and a few pieces of baked apple. It also had all sorts of things I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. There was a little pot of very good olive oil, lime, rosemary and some green herbs.
This dish was spectacular. I particularly liked the mushrooms, apple and avocado, but all of it was really good. I used the olive oil a bit on the green beans and carrots, but I mostly used the dressing. It was a really good dressing that was made with garlic, mustard and olive oil.
After the wonderful first course, the main dish was good, but not quite as good. I got the Salmon trout with Quillabamba Mango (but it was substituted with passion fruit instead of mango today). It was pretty good, but I think that I would have gotten chicken or beef if I were to go again. It was a bit too sweet. There was a half of a passion fruit shell (I think it was passion fruit) that was filled with a little baked fruit (it may have been apple). The main course also came with a couple of sides that I didn’t eat much of. There really was too much food! The sides were potato chips, some sort of sweet potato slices, another baked tomato half with green herbs on top, and a couple of green beans.
As good as the entire meal had been, the dessert was the best part. I had hesitated on getting the set menu because of the dessert, but I ended up going with the apple pie with custard and ice cream. The plate came, and it was different from what I had expected (like usual). The custard was a thin sauce underneath the pie, not thick custard like I had in mind. The ice cream was a small scoop of tart ice cream (it was probably some sort of fruit). The apple pie was not the tall mix of apples that I am used to. It had more of a tart presentation, with one layer of apples laid out in a pretty presentation. It was also garnished with a cherry, mint leaves and three apple slices. It was a truly beautiful presentation. I also think that this may be the best apple pie I have ever tasted. The custard was smooth and slightly sweet, and it went perfectly with the warm apple pie.
While I was in the restaurant, a traditionally dressed older man came into the restaurant and laid his cloth wrap full of merchandise and tools on the floor. He appeared to know the owner. From the brief time I had to view their interactions, I would guess that the older man was like a father-figure to the owner. Everyone in the restaurant got a free bracelet. I thought it was interesting that no one even tried to sell me a bracelet. I was in a good enough mood that I probably would have bought one! On my way out, I spoke briefly with the owner and he offered me a free drink. Since I don’t drink, I had to turn down his offer. Still, free stuff in Aguas Calientes!
That night, things began to get worse, unfortunately. I had brought five bottles of water with me because of how much more expensive things are in Aguas Calientes. When I tried to open a new bottle, I found that three out of the five might have had issues. The ring wasn’t detached from the lid, but they came off with the lid. I tasted them to see if there were issues and they didn’t taste quite right, but I might have been imagining that. That evening, I started to feel ill. My stomach didn’t feel quite right, my joints were aching and my skin was super sensitive. In addition to that, our room was really noisy. Something about the acoustics of the alleyway took every noise that occurred outside and amplified it. I think it was louder in the room than it was outside! So, between feeling bad and the noise (people talking, dogs fighting, kids yelling…) I probably got 3-4 hours sleep.
The next morning, I got up at 4:15am so that we could leave to catch a bus around 5:30am. We were trying to catch the sunrise at Macchu Picchu. We got there after waiting in a line for the bus for about half an hour. Luckily, the movement of the bus made me feel better instead of worse, and we got to Macchu Picchu after a 20 minute bus ride. There were surprisingly few stalls selling anything, and they were all closed that early, anyway. We went through the line to get our passport and ticket checked (I also got a passport stamp later. Despite the fact that it was a do-it-yourself thing, it wasn’t open that early either). Then we finally got to see Macchu Picchu. We waited above the ruins for the sunrise, and we got a few good pictures despite the people starting to file in.
Our guide took us up a bit higher and explained some of the history of the area. Apparently, the ruins were re-discovered by a professor from Yale University who was looking for a different set of ruins. He found a couple of families in the area who directed him to Macchu Picchu. There, he found another couple of families who lived nearby and were using some of the terraces for farming. They were too busy to show him around, so the first Macchu Picchu tour guide was a 12 year old boy.
No one knows for sure what Macchu Picchu was intended for, but some of the theories include it being a kind of leisure resort or that it was where the sons of nobles were sent to school. When the Incan empire was destroyed by the Spanish, the last thousand of the people went to hide in Macchu Picchu. They left for another town when the Spanish got close to Macchu Picchu. They passed right below the mountain, but without people inhabiting it, it was well hidden enough that they didn’t find the deserted town. In the corner of this picture is the guide. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a better picture of him. He was a great tour guide.
Here you can see some of the metal grates on the ground that has been cleared off for tourists.
If you look at this picture sideways it looks like a face! People trying to sell me painting in Cusco would talk about that, but I didn’t imagine that it would be quite so vivid! After the first part of the tour, the rest of the group left to climb Huayna Picchu. I didn’t sign up for it, and I’m glad. It would have killed me even if I weren’t sick. Huayna Picchu is the giant mountain that is in every picture of Macchu Picchu, the nose part of the face. Only 400 people can climb it per day, and the climb is booked months in advance.
At this point I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to do the second part of the tour. I had the shivers pretty bad. The tour guide asked if I could wait until they were done with the hike, so I found a rock on an out-of-the way path and sat in the sun to warm up. I got some decent pictures from there.
After about an hour on the rock, I decided to make my way back to the entrance where we were supposed to meet after 2 1/2 hours. I got a few more good pictures. One is of some guys who were pounding dirt down with large sticks to make the ground smooth. There were also two noticeable and large trees in the ruins. On the way out I passed by a row of huts. I do wish that I had made it to the second half of the tour. It would have been fascinating.
After I bought a 8 s./ water bottle, I found some of the very small amount of shade available. It was in a corner, tucked under some trees and bushes. While I was sitting here, a clever little sparrow managed to scare me away from some food crumbs it wanted. At first, it just hopped a little closer, and a little closer, until it was about three feet away from me. It would just eye me and pick at something on the ground. Then it disappeared for awhile. Then, there was a sudden rustling behind me in the bushes and some leaves started falling on my head. This startled me into leaping up. I turned around to see what it was, and that tiny sparrow was just sitting there eating some crumbs that had been beside me. The whole thing was rather cute, I thought.
After that, I decided that I should get more water, so I went to the snack shop and got a water and some chocolate cookies. It was nice, and I finally had some decent shade to sit in. The tour guide found me there, and I confirmed that I didn’t want to do the rest of the tour. After a bit I started to head out. I used the restroom (1 s./) before getting in the tremendous bus line. I think it took me about 40 minutes to get on a bus! After that, I rested in the hotel lobby after I picked up my backpack until it was time to go to the train station. The ride back was miserable because I was freezing cold, despite the fact that others on the train were hot. The next morning, I took Cipro and missed a day of school, but I’m feeling a lot better by now. Now I just need to survive the flight home!