A Travellerspoint blog

Getting to Machu Picchu

Sometimes it's not about the journey, it's all about the destination

Getting to Machu Picchu was not easy. First there were the four flights to get from Seattle to Cuzco. This alone took over 24 hours, and as you may or may not know, I’m not particularly a fan of flying. We then explored Cuzco for two days before “Escape to Machu Picchu Part II” resumed. It was an early morning, and the sky was still dark as we flagged down a taxi driver at 4 am who then delivered us to the crumbling remains of a bus station. Due to heavy rains early this year, the train trip to Machu Picchu now begins with a bus journey, so we then boarded our “tourist bus” for a two and half hour ride to Piscacho.

The bus ride was intense. Stuck in the back seat of 12 person van, Dan spent much of the journey dry heaving in a plastic bag. While I spent the ride peeking out the window eyeing the precarious cliffs we were teetering on. It seemed like the majority of the time on the bus was spent navigating a single lane, gravel road, whose shoulder crumbled into a raging river far below. Once in Piscacho, thankful to be alive, we boarded our Peru Rail train for an hour and half ride to Aguas Calientes. Although we were still teetering on the remains of landslides and washed out river embankments, for some reason I was too engrossed with the scenery to truly care (and anything was better than that horrible bus ride).


Once in Aguas Calientes we checked into our “eco lodge” the Rupa Wasi. Built precariously into the cliff side our little loft room provided sweeping views of the tiny town below and was literally engulfed in the jungle. Sure, the entire room tilted dangerously forward, and any round objects placed on the floor rapidly rolled off into a corner, but we still found it to be … charming.


We didn’t linger long in our vertigo inducing room, but rather quickly bought our bus tickets for the steep journey up the mountainside to the remains of Machu Picchu. Once again I endured flashbacks of our recent bus ride as we lumbered up the dozen or so steep switchbacks on another single lane, gravel road. Thankfully this ride only lasted 30 or so minutes before we were deposited with hundreds of other tourists at the entrance gates to Machu Picchu.


Once through the gates it was a vertical climb to get to the postcard view of Machu Picchu. In a single file we marched like ants, and one after another the sounds of oohs and ahhs trickled down the line as we each caught our first glimpse of the awe inspiring view.


We spent the entire day at Machu Picchu, climbing amongst the ruins, lounging in the grass with llamas, and hiking the many trails in the surrounding hills. Foregoing the knowledge of a guide, we preferred to explore on our own agenda.


Machu Picchu is incredibly vast. Sure, in photos it appears to be a dime sized stomping ground, but in reality we could have spent days discovering the many hidden alleyways and terraces. It was interactive and hands on, and thus it was easy to visualize what life what like here 500 years ago.


Although historians and researchers have spent decades attempting to discover the purpose of Machu Picchu, only theories exist. Some believe it was a “vacation” getaway for Inca royalty, others believe it was built as a prison. Some say it was used for agricultural testing, while others suggest the Incas built it for the Gods. No one really knows, so it was easy to image all the potential possibilities as we wandered through the hundreds of chambers.


We stayed until there were only a handful of tourists left, when the light trickled through the mountains and peacefulness descended upon the hills. It was truly magical and unlike any other travel moment I’ve experienced. We felt worlds away from the realities of life and if it weren’t for the dozens of guards who prohibit such activities, we probably would have camped out there under the stars.


Back in Aguas Calientes we ate a quick dinner before retiring for the night. Oh how I wish things could have ended so sweetly, but instead, food poisoning came knocking down Dan’s door. To make matters worse, the water supply to the town was lost. All I can say is that I was so thankful it wasn’t me. Yet.

Posted by Jennylynn 10:39 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Saqsay What?

For several days in Cuzco we overheard mutterings about "sexy woman" this and "sexy woman" that. Not ones to miss out on the excitement, Dan and I set out to discover this so-called sexy woman that everyone seemed to be talking about. While I had envisioned a royal woman draped in loosely gathered woven cloth, it turns out sexy woman was actually Saqsaywaman, the ancient remains of a walled complex built by the Killke culture around 1100 AD. So much for Dan's hopes of discovering the Angelina Jolie of the Andes.


It's not like Saqsaywaman was devoid of beauty, just check out this mug shot.


And, wow, those all natural curves!


The stonework was pretty impressive.


But the view was what really won us over. Sitting high above Cuzco, you can't really gain a better vantage point.


As we wandered about we discovered that Saqsaywaman also serves as the local playground.


Watch as Dan discovers the wonders of a "Peruvian Slide"

Just days prior to the onset of food poisoning, we still looked in pretty good shape. Granted Saqsaywaman really gave us a workout. We were huffing and puffing from the lack of oxygen at 12,000 feet.


Saqsaywaman was worth the effort, but unfortunately this "Sexy Woman" was just a notch in the bed post as we made our way to the much grander Machu Picchu the next day.

For more Photo Friday fun, visit Delicious Baby!

Posted by Jennylynn 06:54 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Cuzco: The Epicenter of the Inca Empire

With elements of colonial architecture, crooked, cobbled streets, and dramatic churches with towering spires, Cuzco looks like a transplanted European city in the midst of the Andes Mountains. On closer inspection Cuzco reveals vendors selling colorful, woven tapestries, dazzling Inca relics, and impressive archaeological sites. While once the seat of the sprawling Inca Empire, Cuzco saw the demise of its people to the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors. Today, Cuzco is mix of European flare and colorful Peruvian pride. As the gateway to Machu Picchu, Cuzco sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and serves as an international hub for hippie backpackers and retired tour goers. It is here that Dan and I made a temporary home for ourselves for five days as we set out to explore the remains of the Inca Empire.


Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Peru wasn’t my first choice for destination of the year. My ideal vacations tend to involve lots of sandy beaches or bustling metropolitan cities. Now, as much as I like to think that I am in charge of the travelling reigns, once in a while I have to let Dan steer the vacation wagon. So last year we cashed in our airline reward miles and booked two round trip tickets to Peru and planned to divvy our time between Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and Lima. So it was that two weeks ago Dan and I found ourselves in the middle of the chaotic charms of Cuzco.


Our first impression was one of hesitation. The effects of poverty were seen everywhere and the thick smell of car exhaust clung to the air choking our already oxygen starved lungs. Yet, as our taxi navigated through the crowded streets we began to see a more lively and charming side to Cuzco. Although the poverty was inescapable the city was also rich with character and history.


We stayed at the Niños Hotel, a sparse, but clean establishment, whose profits benefit several orphanages in the Cusco area. Within the lobby and small restaurant the walls were collaged in classic black and white portraits of the children the hotel was helping. The courtyard was peaceful and seemed worlds away from the rumbling congestion of the diesel spewing traffic just outside. While far from a five star establishment, we found Niños to be homey and charming.


The bustling center of Cuzco is the Plaza de Armas where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the stunning scenery of the towering La Catedral and the Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus. When the altitude got the best of us, we often enjoyed a leisurely afternoon relaxing on one the Plazas many benches and green spaces.



Perched high above the city center, San Blas offers sweeping views of the city and a collection of smart restaurants and shops, and is an easy favorite for many tourists. The plaza stays packed with vendors selling their wares, and families enjoy strolling the picturesque streets. One afternoon as we sat admiring the simplicity of our surroundings a young boy, perhaps two or three years old, wandered over with his soccer ball. Dan couldn’t resist jumping up from his bench to play a quick game with the lonesome boy. While back home, kids are never left home alone until at least the age of twelve, in Peru it was common to see children as young as three wandering the streets without any other children or adults around. Our new soccer friend Jose, was happy to have found a friend in Dan, and the two easily got along despite language and age barriers.



While the city hosts a variety of art and history museums, we only had time for the Museo Inka where hundreds of Inca artifacts are displayed. Within the courtyard of the museum we were fortunate to watch as Andean weavers demonstrated their fine finger work creating beautiful garments and tapestries.


While wandering about the city, it was easy to stumble across the remains of ancient Inca structures. Qorikancha was once the richest temple in the Inca Empire and despite years of leveling earthquakes it still stands as one of the finest examples of the masterful stonework by the Incans. Today it has been “improved” with steel and glass additions creating an oddly disharmonious façade.


We had one last place to visit in Cuzco. Saqsaywaman, pronounced “sexy woman,” was a steep, heart pounding hike up from the city center. Immensely beautiful, Saqsaywaman was an experience worthy of an entry itself and with that I will have to leave you hanging until next time. To be continued…


Posted by Jennylynn 21:07 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Camels in Cairo

Before Dan and I jet away to Peru for a couple weeks, I thought I would I leave you with a little something during my absence. You see, Dan and I have done a bit of travelling. Although we've crossed off the obligatory Minnie and Micky adventures in Disneyland, braved thousands of miles of open road in search for America's best National Parks, and lounged lazily at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, our journeys are not always limited to the safe and mundane.

We also like to ride camels in Egypt.


It was just about two years ago that Dan and I set off for a summer in Europe. Although each city and country impressed us with history, art, and cuisine, in the end, each excursion blended into one another. Just like all the good things in life, what was once exciting and new was slowly becoming routine. However would we break the monotony? The answer came a quick flight to Cairo later.


Cairo was chaotic, polluted, stressful, and most importantly unexpected. This was the culture shock we were after. If armed and uniformed men on every corner and heart attack inducing taxi rides weren't enough to send us running back to the comforts of Europe, the heat and filth surely ruffled our feathers. Yet, as quirky, scary, and dangerous as it was, we loved nearly every minute of.


What was so appealing about the Cairo Circus? The people: generous, kind, and helpful. Yes, sometimes they were just trying to make a sale, but even when turned down a thousand times, they still opened their doors and treated us like family. Pushing through crowded market places, it was as though the red carpet had been rolled out before our feet. Showing the eager sellers that we really had no money to spend, they still never faltered and welcomed us to try the fruits of their labors. All political, religious, and cultural differences aside, we never once witnessed anything but openhanded kindness from locals.

Early morning call to prayer from our hostel window

We spent our days discovering the many hidden gems within the walls of the Egyptian Museum, exploring the local marketplaces, and immersing ourselves in the culture of the people.


We took a dinner cruise down the Nile, taking in a night of feasting and dancing.


But, no trip to Cairo is complete without making the trek to the Great Pyramids.


As gracefully as possible we rode our camels around the desert with the help of a guide. Let me rephrase - our likely 10 year old guide. Not quite sure what we had gotten ourselves into, we hoped for the best. Luckily we were able to brave the blistering heat for several hours and got our share of photo opportunities with the shutter happy help of our kid guide. Sure, half our photos ended up just exposing the tops of our heads or the bottoms of our feet, but he was loving it to much to give him a proper photography lesson.


The camels were, well, not what we expected either. Sadly, we felt out camels had seen better days and guiltily we rode them about wondering if perhaps these weren't camels from the "government" regulated stables we were promised.


The Pyramids on the other hand were phenomenal. No words can truly describe how incredible it was to stand below such an ancient and imposing structure. You can't help but feel a sense of awe at the enormity and grandness of them.


As our camels carried us back we reflected on our Cairo experience. We had been searching for an adventure that would truly amaze and inspire, one that would cause us discomfort and unease at the unexpected, and one that would open our eyes to another culture. Cairo delivered on all fronts and we couldn't have asked for a more dynamic and enriching experience.

Posted by Jennylynn 19:05 Archived in Egypt Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

They're Not Just Flowers

Photo Friday


On my way to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival today I observed the following bumper sticker: "Turn around stupid, they're just flowers." Well, I didn't turn around. In fact, Dan and I made an entire day of tulip sightseeing, and you know what? They're not just flowers. Each variety of tulip had a completely unique look and personality. Just see for yourself.



It was a splendid day indeed.


For more Photo Friday fun visit Delicious Baby!

Posted by Jennylynn 20:31 Archived in USA Tagged foot Comments (1)

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