Peruvian Paradise

Machu Picchu has always been on my travel bucket list, so when I finally began planning my trip here, it morphed into my first solo journey abroad.  I whittled it down to two options; backpack through Peru and spend the nights on the trail, tired, sweaty and worn out or sign up for a Spanish Immersion class and stay with a local family. Of course, I chose the latter. Sothere I was, traveling alone to another continent and excited about the adventure that awaited. I decided to sign up with a school called Ecela for a week long Spanish immersion class and let me take a minute here to give props to this school.  Every part of the process with this school was easy and everyone I dealt with from day one was amazing, personable and accommodating.  If you need a Spanish school in South American, please give Ecela a try, for you will not be disappointed! 
 The plane arrived in Lima after a flight of approximately 7 hours, on the morning of June 5th, and what a gorgeous airport! I wish I could have spent some time in this city, but it was not possible because my flight to Cusco left immediately. The flight to Cusco was about 1.5 hours and I had arranged for transport from the airport to my family’s home beforehand, so my taxi driver was waiting there with sign in hand.  Cusco airport was small and there are drivers all around trying to buy your business.  Be aware from the start to only take official taxis and never get into a car that is not marked.  My driver gets me to the home of The Echeney Family located at the corner of Av. Manco Ccapac and Av Tacna near the Plaza Tupac Amaru. I am thrilled that I am staying in a regular neighborhood and not in a tourist area. The first meeting with my family is a little awkward because he speaks just a little English and the wife speaks very little, but I am in love with these people from the start and my accommodations in the barrio are perfect!  I can already tell that this trip will be amazing! I had prearranged transfer to the train station for the trip to Machu Picchu with the school and what a good idea.  The taxi ride was about 40 minutes up the mountain and worth the $20.00 that I paid him for the transfer.  We agreed that he would pick me up at 9 pm that night and take me back to my home and he was there on time as we agreed and having the peace of mind that I would have transfer was worth the price. 
My Peru Rail train left the Poroy-Machupichhu station at 6:40am Sunday morning. A couple of people mentioned that I should wait a couple of days to acclimate to the higher altitude, but I continued with my plans and was not affected in any way. When I booked my train ride I had upgraded to the Vistadome, which included comfy seats, snacks and drinks and a buffet lunch at the Bellmond Hotel in Machu Picchu, and it was totally worth it at the price of $130.00.  That morning when I left Cusco to catch my train, it was about 40 F, so I layered my clothing in anticipation that it may be warmer in Machu Picchu and I was correct, for it was a balmy 85 degrees when we arrived at the ruins. It took us about 3.5 hours to reach Machu Picchu and I must say the ride did not seem that long because the scenery was magnificent as we traveled alongside the Urubamba River.   One of the first things I noticed was that the river appeared to be running north following the train. I mentioned this to the family from San Diego that I was riding with and they looked at me like I was crazy.  Later, I learned that the city of Cusco is at an elevation of 11,152 ft., while Machu Picchu is at a lower elevation of 7972 ft and the river does indeed run north by northwest. The train stops in the Pueblo of Machu Picchu (previously called Aguas Calientes) and from here you hop a bus that will take you up the mountain.  The bus ride is 20-30 minutes long and another $24.00 for a round trip.  Be sure and take some time to explore this little pueblo of Machu Picchu, for it is beautiful.  There is a market, cute shops and restaurants as well as the scenic river that runs through the middle of the pueblo. When I came down from the mountain, I spent a little time at a small restaurant near the train tracks called La Retama del Che and listened to a local musician. 
After a bumpy bus ride, up the mountain I finally stepped into the magical land of Machu Picchu!  I exited the bus and immediately started shedding layers of clothing because it was hot! I then took advantage of the buffet lunch I had purchased at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge and fueled up for the long day of exploration. Machu Picchu was everything I had imagined and more and the views were breathtaking. I arrived on the mountain around 10am and left around 4pm, because I wanted to spend some time in Machu Picchu Pueblo before my train departed back to Cusco.  My only regret is that I did not transverse the mountain up to Huanya peak first, which is 1,180 ft above Machu Picchu complex or Machu Picchu Mountain which is 900 ft above Huayna.  By the time I got around to the entrance to Huanya, it was 2pm and they had closed the trail for the day.  Huayna is about a 40minute hike and another 50 minutes to the Machu Picchu mountain. I was so happy that I took this trip to Machu Picchu and that I did it the day after I arrived in Cusco.  The train ride back to the Poroy station and finally Cusco, was lively and fun because the staff allowed me to bring a bottle of wine on the train and they put on quite the fashion show for all aboard! 
Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

The rest of my week in Cusco did not disappoint!  I happened to be there during the Dia de la Bandera, which is a week-long celebration of their flag and culture.  This celebration brought out every civil servant, and every military group to the central plaza to honor the flag and it was quite a show!  As soon as I learned to navigate the city on foot, I would walk each day down to the Plaza de Armas, which was the central plaza of Cusco. The home where I stayed was about a 1.5 mile walk to the plaza.  I would sit in one of the many cafes overlooking the plaza, order a cup of cappuccino, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the plaza.  I visited the Barrio San Pedro, which has the famous San Pedro market inside. There in San Pedro I also toured the Templo de San Fransisco de Asis.  I have been in a lot of churches in my lifetime, but this was the first church I have ever visited that considers displaying human bones a normal occurrence. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful church filled with gorgeous artwork and rooms carved of wood. The school arranged a horseback ride in Saksaywaman, a town just north of Cusco. We rode to the Temple of the Moon, where I met a local man who played a song on the Kena flute for me. Also, the Ecela school arranged salsa dancing on Thursday night.  
There is no shortage of places to eat in Cusco and you must try the local drink called "Pisco Sour". Pisco is a style of brandy from Chili and Peru with a tequila flavor and when mixed with a citrus sour and sweeteners, it makes for a refreshing cocktail. La Paccha in the Barrio San Blas was a delicious lunch cafe.  Quilla, just south of the plaza had live music and great bar food and I ate dinner at a local restaurant by my home near the Plaza Tupac called Antojitos. The locals were not quite sure why a blond American was sitting alone in their neighborhood cafe, but I certainly was enjoying myself.  My classmates, my teacher and I went on a field trip to the Coca Leaf Museum where we indulged in coca leaf wine and coca leaf chocolates.  This museum was truly interesting and easy to get to, so a must see. On my last night in Cusco we visited a restaurant called Limbas in the Barrio San Blas overlooking the city.  I do suggest going here at night because the view is simply breathtaking.  After leaving Limbas, there was a great fiesta occurring in the square with pisco sours flowing, a band playing the local music, so my Brazilian friends and I danced into the night with the locals. 
 Overall, my solo adventure to Peru was amazing!  I constantly reminisce about the memories I made here and hope to go back one day.  Who knows maybe this time I will attempt the backpacking extravaganza!  
 May you discover your own Earth Quest
 Happy Travels