I’m writing this considerably after the fact, so my recounting will likely be a list of facts rather than interesting anecdotes about the trip. But it’s not like I can skip posting pictures of Machu Piccu, so here we go. I promise to be better in the future.
I don’t know what happened to the pictures – maybe I didn’t take any – but we spent a few nights in San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile. It’s very similar to Bolivia and Peru, except it’s much more expensive. And it’s a bit of a hippie town – not many locals around and it’s mainly a place for tourism.
We went on a couple tours, saw some desert, saw some sunset, saw some weird formations. There are geysers and hot pools around here too. Didn’t really care for it.
Then, my sister’s sprint to Lima to return home included an overnight bus over the boarder to Tacna, where I chilled for a couple hours until continuing. The town is mostly unremarkable, but they did have a nice square.
To catch up on work and relax a bit, I headed to Arequipa (the Peruvian “white city”). It was my favorite city in Peru – touristy and active enough to have everything I needed, moderately pretty, fairly cheap, and good WiFi. My hostel served pancakes every morning, which was a delicious change. I mostly just lived and wandered, though, so I didn’t take many pictures.
Here is the Basilica/Cathedral in Plaza de Armas. It looks nice, especially at night.
Not far from here was a Starbucks, which is probably why I liked Arequipa so much. It was actually a tiny American section, complete with a Burger King and Pizza Hut (McDonald’s was across the street).
They had a couple good Vegetarian places with lunch menus for 9-10 soles ($3 or so). Omphalos Cafe is one I went to a couple times.
There was a sizeable earthquake off the coast of Peru while I was staying here, knocking out a road and causing people who were on the long bus journey to Lima to turn around and come right back. It didn’t really effect me, but it was nice to be around people who were in a bad mood for once. Travelers can be unbearably upbeat.
Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world (so I was told) is not far from Arequipa. It’s here that I put in what was probably my most grueling walking day yet. I had a nice plan, but the signs were poor, and after walking forever I turned around probably 30 minutes from my destination just to trudge 3 hours back to a place I had passed earlier (I didn’t want to get stuck outside for the night).
For the first part of the trip, I was joined by a local dog that served as my guide. I named him Yoshi, and we almost had a great picture together but my phone was being uncooperative and Yoshi lost his patience.
The walk was full of nice views, and I ended up meeting a couple girls (one from Poland, the other from France) who were more tolerable than most. They were staying in Arequipa for a month, living in a kind of romantic squalor while one worked at the hospital and the other a vegetarian restaurant. They made a convenient excuse for walking up slowly the next morning.
In all, I’m not sure it was really necessary to walk all the way down the canyon and then all the way up again. After the first few minutes, you kind of get it. It’s pretty, don’t get me wrong, but you can see it pretty well from up high.
I headed back to Arequipa for a few days, then went to Cusco. Cusco, which is a horrible place, extremely touristy and cold. The hostels are all open-air shared areas for some reason, so it’s always freezing. Plus, people are short here, so I hit my head a lot on the top of doorways.
Ultimately, I opted to move to a hotel, where I was much more content, enabling me to find a little enjoyment in this cruel world. It was warm during the day and I could sit in my room and work (plus it was only like $20/night – much more than the $5 hostels but realistically still very cheap).
I expanded my horizons and found a couple other coffee shops to work from (since Starbucks prices are quite literally the same as they are in the US). One did a kind of vegetarian English breakfast, which was a nice reminder of western society. The San Blas area had a few places I could sit and work as well – bakeries with good bread or waffles and such.
Lots of vegetarian places in Cusco, and in general they know how to do a good veggie lasagna. I highly recommend El Encuentro, as it’s very good and cheap being just off the main tourist area. Cafe Punchay is great breakfast option (skip Jack’s Cafe – it’s the same stuff but double the price). Skip Green Point Restaurants too – it’s vegan stuff that tastes like cardboard. Meatball Club has vegetarian meatballs which are surprisingly edible.
Then it was time for the grand finale to the trip – the Inca Trail Trek. My group consisted of three guys in their mid-20s from Pennsylvania, four French-Canadian girls also in their mid-20s, and a family of five from Seattle (the parents were originally from Slovakia and Czech Republic). Overall, an enjoyable group.
I didn’t take many pictures the first couple days become I was conserving battery (there was nowhere to charge on the trip). But it had the nice views of mountains you’d expect.
The Inca Trail Trek allows you to walk through a few more ruins, which I guess is why you have to book so far in advance and it’s more expensive. Here’s one of those such places.
Overall, I’d say the Inca Trail Trek is overpriced and miss-able. Just take one of the other treks once you get there for half the price. It’s definitely the touristy one – I mean we had like 13 porters for our group of 13 people. Don’t get me wrong – it was nice to have unnecessarily massive tents and our own personal chairs and bowls to sit in and wash our hands with, but it was overkill. Gives people jobs I guess.
Also, even carrying my own pack, the trail is a piece of cake. I had a reputation for being the crazy person, always being one of the first done, the only one not using walking sticks, carrying all the weight, not using a sleeping bag, and not eating meat. Oh well, every group needs their constantly perturbed crazy person.
The morning we got there, it was pouring rain (just my luck, as usual). The “Sungate” we got up at 3 in the morning to see was just a cloud of rain.
Machu Piccu, impressive as it is, is still just a bunch of rocks. I don’t really understand the attraction. Honestly, without that mountain in the background that everyone loves, it’s not much to look at. But maybe that’s the point – that it was built up in these mountains in a beautiful place.
So mainly it’s hundreds of tourists wandering around old rocks and taking a lot of selfies. Not for me. I spent a little time after our tour wandering around, but I headed back to Aguas Calientes pretty quickly. Had some pizza, it was ok.
So I’ve crossed off my second wonder of the world. It was probably more wonderful than Chichen Itza, but neither have me rushing off to see the other five. If this is the best the world has to offer, I need to find another world.