Thursday, February 20th
While roughly half our class was headed home on Thursday, 14 of us made the trek back to Santiago in a separate bus for an afternoon flight to Lima, Peru. The day was pretty uneventful with a long bus ride to Santiago and 3 hour flight to Lima.
Arriving in Lima late in the afternoon, we were greeted by our tour guide and were able to walk directly across the street to our very nice hotel and got settled. After putting our luggage away, we loaded up on Peruvian currency (Soles = 2.83 to 1 $USD).
Friday, February 21st
On our travel day to Machu Picchu, we felt a bit like we were playing the Amazing Race. We all awoke around 2AM after getting just a handful of hours of sleep. Meeting in the hotel lobby around 2:45AM for breakfast, we then walked across the street to the airport shortly after 3AM for our 5:00AM flight to Cuzco. We quickly learned that our flight had been canceled due to "maintenance" issues and that they were unable to get us on the 6AM flight either so 9:40 AM would have to do.
After spending the next 6 hours lounging around the airport, we were to make the 1.5 hour flight to Cusco. We had missed our 9:15AM train to Machu Picchu, leaving our travel company scrambling to adjust our schedule. Upon landing we were quickly escorted to a private bus that would drive us almost 1.5 hours to meet the train at a station between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. On the bus our travel guide encouraged us to eat cocoa candies to help fight altitude sickness as Cuzco city is located at 11,000 feet. I believe he said there is roughly 20% less oxygen there compared to where we came from. We saw a lot of construction both in the downtown high-end part of the city and also in the shanties on the outside of the city center. Interestingly we learned that residents always add a second or third story to their home that they never finish because once it is finished, then they have to start paying taxes.
The bus ride across the countryside was filled with outstanding views and a tremendous amount of information from our tour guide. We learned that the land was suited for growing many types and kinds of crops and was done so by farmers that managed usually less than 0.25 hectares each. Land was collectivley owned by the local community and was split to the families; legally it could not be bought and sold. Driving thru some small towns we learned cock fights and bull fights were common and popular. Also, some of the towns were built on ancient Inca sites with numerous streets, foundations, or buildings becoming part of the present day city and dwellings. Our driver had his pedal to the metal the entire time because we were going to be late for our train. Arriving at the station, we all more or less ran, chasing our guide as he made sure the train didn't leave.
Our train ride was an experience in itself. With very nice accomodations and large open windows letting in the warm air and breezes, we ate fresh fruit, sandwiches, and beverages as the train made its way through the mountains. We were now in the rainforest and followed the river with no roads for vehicles. Most of the time there was just enough room for the raging river and our train track between the jungle covered mountains that shot up 1000-2000ft on each side. The ride lasted around an hour and a half and brought us to the little tourist town near the base of Machu Picchu. This little hidden hub is not very big at all and is very much surrounded by jungle. It has streets just wide enough for people to pass in each direction and can be quite steep along the jungle valley. It was very nice with markets, restaurants, and little hotels and hostels around every turn.
Upon settling into our little hotel with an amazing view, we ventured out to find something to eat. We tried our hand at brick oven baked Guinea pig which actually wasn't too bad. Wasn't a very well marbled critter, but it was edible. After supper, some of the group wandered through the shops while the rest of us headed to the hot springs. By following the little stream that flowed right through the city up the valley, we found the numerous hot spring fed pools and relaxed there for a bit.