Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cusco/on the way to Lima

Our time in Cusco has been both good and bad for me. The good: I got to see my second world wonder and I actually hiked up to Machu Picchu . The hike nearly killed me or so it felt like anyway. It was the second most difficult if not the most difficult hike I have ever done. My jungle hike in Chang Mai Thailand last year was extremely brutal too. It sure did feel good to make it up to Machu Picchu alive and in one piece (just barely). It is an extremely difficult climb up a steep steep mountain and it never seems to stop going up. The climb took me an hour and ten minutes. Funnily enough my mate Ben who smokes more than a pack a week of cigarettes made it up in just over 30 minutes. I guess I should pick up smoking huh? :P. I am not overweight or extremely unhealthy but I will be the first to admit that I am out of shape and this hike really showed me that. It is one of my goals to get back into decent shape again though.

The Bad: Our “Host” I put host in quotes because he wasn't really one at all and definitely didn’t show us the couch surfing spirit. When we got there at first everything seemed cool and he seemed nice but then when we found out he was a travel agent and he assured us he could us a good deal we stupidly decided to book with his company. We thought he might be nice and show us around Cusco or have a drink with us (we offered to hang out with him more than once) but after we paid our money for the tour we only saw him briefly for two other times. He basically said “here is your room” and that was that.

We have come to find out that he just uses CS as a business and that is totally wrong. The tour we booked with his company was both good and bad. It was cheap but, they assured us they would pick us up and they didn't so two and a half hours later we had to pay our own way in a taxi to meet the rest of the tour and that was just the beginning of it all... We had to walk over two hours to the city at the base of Machu Picchu . Which really wasn't all their fault as their was a rock slide in the road. (The Peruvian Govt makes over 15 million USD a year on Machu Picchu and they still only have one lane half paved death road).

Our driver on the way there was nice and pretty good although he loved to speed and pass everyone in sight on that crazy mountain death road with zero guard rails, we did get there in once piece to where we had to start hiking. So after two plus hours of hiking we made it to Aguascalientes (the tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu  and with the tour we booked they assured us dinner and a hostel for the night. Dinner was ok but the hostel we stayed at promised us hot water in the shower and there was none. That sucked but it wasn't life threatening or anything.

After dinner and a cold shower we went out on the town for a bit. I was super tired from our hike just to get there so I wasn't up for much and I was not impressed with Aguascalientes at all because the only reason it exist is for the tourist. It had no character or anything of value in my opinion but for some strange reason Ben seemed to love it there haha. The next day we were told to get up and start walking at 4am by our guide if we didn't want to take the bus to  Machu Picchu ( it cost 8 USD) and they said you had to start hiking early if you wanted to be one of the special 400 people only to get a stamp to go to this special view point on top of Machu Picchu I won't even begin to try and spell it. It was another hour and a half hike to the view point on top of what you already had to hike just to get to Machu Picchu.

So we get up at 3:45am to get ready to go and we hike for a good 15 minutes to the very base of Machu Picchu only to find out they don't open the gates until 5:00am so rather than getting more rest we woke up for nothing thanks to what our guide said. Not only that but the first bus left at 5:30am and was supposed to take about 30 minutes to get up there. So we had to beat all the bus people for this stamp to the lookout place. After all the delays the hike started out well enough for me. I kept up a good pace for about half an hour or so but then I started to get really tired really fast. I soon realised there was no way I was going to make it up there to be in the first 400. So rather than kill my body totally physically I decided just to go at my own pace. I slowed down and started to walk with some other people while Ben the Superman plowed ahead. It was a steep vertical ascent straight up there and after an hour and a bit just as I was seriously about to give up I made it up there!

I have no idea what possessed anyone to build an entire city way up there nor do I have any idea what possesses millions of people to go see it every year haha. This year is actually the 100th anniversary of its re-discovery so I am glad I did it this year and made it but I will never ever be doing it again lol. I had always thought that the Spanish came and killed all the Inca's and plundered all their treasure but that isn't actually the case. In 1532 the Inca ruler heard the Spanish were close so he ordered the entire city of 500+ people abandoned.

Back to me for a bit, I actually DID make it up there to be in line for the special stamp to go to the view point (I was number 123 actually) but by the time I got there I was so wrecked I realised I could never ever hike ANOTHER hour+ so I declined. At the time the weather was cloudy as it was early in the morning but our guided tour started and for two hours we had a good tour with our guide and Machu Picchu really is breath taking. The views and history are amazing. I will be putting pictures on Facebook soon. It is really hard to describe at all you just have to see it. It was once covered with gold but over the years all the gold has been taken.

Ben went up to that look out point and got some good pictures but I really don't regret not going. I am sure it was good but I saw everything I needed to see from right there in the city of Machu Picchu. The views to the surrounding mountains from the city are amazing just alone. We got some great pictures and I was happy. After I had seen all I wanted to see I decided to leave early while Ben was still up on the look out point.

There was no way in hell I was going to climb back down the mountain I had just recently climbed up so I ponied up the 8 bucks for the bus back to Aguascalientes. Once I got there I ate a good Desayuno (breakfast) and then paid 3 bucks for a nice relaxing time at the hot springs where I met some other cool Americans. I didn't know how to say hot springs in Spanish so I got creative again. I asked the guy at the restaurant I ate at, I said I wanted to find the house of hot water for tired people haha. After about an hour in the hot springs Ben had returned and everyone else up went up to the lookout point was filtering in. Our guide rounded us up and we got on the train (that was prepaid in our tour) back to the city where they would bus us back to Cusco. Our train ride was nice and uneventful. Everyone in our group was pretty cool.

Once we got to our van our driver proceeded to drive us back in the same crazy fashion that he drove us there in. I was just used to it at that point really. But at some point along the way he stopped to pick up two random guys we didn't know. We loudly protested in Spanish that this was our tour and not a taxi service (we were already nine people crammed into that little van with all our gear so it was tight) but, he was having none of it. He just had those guys pay him directly for a ride back to Cusco and lined his own pocket. So we were even more crammed into this van for 5+ hours with these randoms guys and all their stuff.

Eventually we finally made it back to Cusco in one piece and after dropping off those guys he was supposed to take us back to our accommodation well that is what was promised to us anyway. Well he didn't. He didn't take anyone where they were supposed to be. He just dropped us off in the main square and we had to walk from there. He was really a jerk. Well that is what you get for 130 USD in Peru I guess. I was seriously angry and even considered complaining but, this isn't America or Europe I knew there was no chance I would get any refund so I didn't even try. But you would think that the Peruvian Govt. would want to encourage tourism with good tour operators and not bad ones like we had. I would totally recommend to everyone NOT to book anything with Hiram Birmingham Travel in Cusco. Peru as a whole is much wealthier than Bolivia due solely to Machu Picchu but I really don't know where all that money goes because there is still a ton of poor people there.

The Ugly: The tour just really frustrated me a lot as did our CS host. I felt ripped off and used. I do want to mention a few good things though. Once we actually got to Machu Picchu the tour was good for that part. I also really enjoyed the city of Cusco a lot and wish I had more time there. In addition, the sister of our “host” didn't speak a word of English but she was super nice and helped us a lot since he was never there and avoiding us. I feel so sorry for her having to put up with all his crap. I talked with her some and I think she feels forced into all this and we will be reporting this guy to the couch surfing administrators.

I also want to back up and mention a few things I forget in my earlier blog. There is MASSIVE amounts of graffiti all over South America and it is quite interesting to look at because most of it is not gang related or anything. Most of the countries we have been to so far are having elections (new governments are really frequent here) so people actually use their own houses as billboards and spray paint stuff all over them. Our govt may not be the best in America but every nation has its problems and at least we have a govt decent enough that we dont have to have elections every year and nor do we have to riot in the streets for better pay. Don't take a stable govt for granted, it is a privilege not a right. Another thing I wish you could see is the power grids/power lines here. It is insane how many lines they have running all together! It would NEVER be allowed in America but it reminds me a lot of Asia and they just do what they have too just to get by. When you have power outage back home just don't be angry and don't take it for granted. Be happy you have consistent cheap power and hot showers because a lot of people don't. We can't even put toilet paper in the toilet here!

The last thing I wanted to mention was how horrible the movies were on the bus from Lake Titicaca to Cusco. Our first movie was one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life hands down. It was all in Spanish and it was one of those movies that looked like it was made by some random guy and he just had all his friends act in it lol. It had no plot line or point and it was just terrible! It was so bad you couldn't look away haha. Our next movie was one of the first ever Tarzan movies made in the 1940's (it was black and white and all in Spanish). Oh ya of course there was a crying baby close to us on the bus. It never stops does it? :P But now we are on our 20+ hour bus ride from Cusco to Lima and both of us are still a little sick but still hanging in there in one piece.

We made it to Lima after 20+ hours on a hot bus but it was cheap. I am seriously considering now adopting kids. When they are nine. Haha I really want to skip the whole I am a screaming baby stage because I just had to sit next to one yet again on a bus for 20 hours I just can't escape it! Lima has been great so far though. We have a (really) awesome CS host this time. More on that later. The last thing I wanted to mention was how terrible the movies were on our bus ride. We had (In Spanish with no subtitles) a movie that looked like it was shot by a guy in his garage with no plot line at all and all his friends acted in it. You know the ones, really one of the worst movies I have ever seen haha. Directly after that we had the first Tarzan movie made in the early 1940's in black and white and also totally in Spanish lol some great movies those were!

Until next time,Tyler

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