Friday, February 13, 2009

Peru Trip

Well, I have officially been to the magical lands of Machu Picchu. As you know from the previous blog, Sarah and her host mom invited me to come with them for a trip to Peru. Her mom wanted to go to Lima, and of course Sarah and I knew there was no point in a trip to Peru without going to Machu, so we convinced her to take a little side trip as well. It was quite the difficult task convincing Rotary to give me permission since it was an out of country trip (even though I didn't have to go through all of this when I went to Brasil), but after a few very stressful days of back and fourth emailing, I got my permission and was off!

We started off in Santa Cruz at 5am. Our flight left at 8, and we had to be there bright and early. Flying into Lima, we had a few days to enjoy ourselves in the Peruvian capital city. We went to a couple museums, just about every church in the city and got to see a symphony in the main plaza. After all this exploring, I found out that it was a very big, busy, smoggy, dirty and huuuumid city. Sadly, I didn't enjoy a lot of my time there. Don't take me wrong, I am pretty grateful that I got to see the city and everything.. I enjoyed the first day or so of wandering around and getting to know the city. After a couple days, the pollution was getting to me and I just needed a change of scenery.

By Saturday, we decided we needed to figure out how we were getting to Cusco. The original plan was to fly if we could find a return flight for $100 or less. Just our luck, we found nothing. The next option was to take a bus to Cusco. It's a lot cheaper (about $30) but it's a 22hr bus ride across the country. By lunch time, we were on the bus... Which was surprisingly nice. Comfy, reclining seats, dinner and lunch, with movies playing the whole way there.

We arrived in Cusco at about 1230pm, and had met up with this woman (just by chance) who was going to help us around Cusco as well as organize our trip to Machu Picchu. We found out there was a tour of the ruins in and around Cusco at 2pm, so we were up and running within half an hour of arriving at the hostel. It was a four hour tour, but we got to see the ruins of Saqsaywaman, Tambomachay (the fountain of life), Puka Pukara and Q'Enqo. We also went to the Santo Domingo convent, which had an Incan temple on the inside (the irony of a catholic church built on top of it) but couldn't go inside, since it was Sunday and they were holding a service. It was an exhausting day that we finished off by going out for dinner to an Indian restaurant (with Indian owners) who had Bollywood music playing the whole time. It made me really miss India, especially after I got my cup of chai.

Got up bright and early for our bus to Ollantaytambo, the halfway point to Machu Picchu where we caught the train. The city below Machu Picchu is named Aguas Calientes, which we arrived in around lunch to be met with pouring rain. We wanted to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu, so we were going to spend the night and then take the bus up to the site first thing in the morning. I ended up getting sick from the twisty turning road that the bus and train took, so we spent most of the first day sleeping anyways.

We got up at 430am to walk to the bus station that morning. It was drizzling and we were praying that the weather didn't get any worse than this. We met three guys from Brazil, who lived not too far away from where we had visited in December. They all spoke perfect english, and ended up being in our tour group. We were very pressured for time though. The park opened at 6am and our tour was at 8am. Sarah wanted to hike to the top of Wayna Picchu, which is the mountain in the background of every classic shot of Machu but this takes a minimum of two hours and didn't open until 7am (which would make us miss the tour). Not to mention that they only let the first 400 people in climb it and we had to leave straight after our tour because Sarah's host mom wanted to go straight back to Lima.

What we decided to do was get Sarah to Wayna as soon as we could (she was one of the first 400, which filled up within the first hour of it being open) while I wandered around the park exploring and taking pictures. When it was time for the tour (I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to meet up with the group), I realized I had no clue how to get back to the entrance, which was the meeting point. I ran into this really nice quebecois who was also really lost, and we ended up figuring out where the entrance was (he had to pee). At that time, Sarah was running up the mountain, to get her photos and enjoy the view at the top, and then try to find the tour group (I would fill her in on the hour or so that she missed). The tour ended up starting late, and Sarah found us within 20 minutes of the tour. She ended up booking it up and down the mountain, almost passing out on the way. We got through the tour, and just as it was finishing, it started to pour. We had perfect timing.

The original plan we had with the tour guide was to leave Aguas Calientes at 6pm that day so we had time to explore Machu, and then relax and pack up when we got back. But Sarah's host mom decided (once we had bought all our tickets) that she didn't want to leave that late, because she didn't want to spend another night in Cusco... even though Sarah and I had felt like we'd barely spent 10minutes in Cusco. So coming straight from the mountain, Sarah and I ran in the rain to the train station to try and change the time of our tickets. We ended up having to buy more expensive tickets but were leaving within the next hour. Then it was back to running, packing and getting on the train. Arriving in Cusco, within minutes we were at a travel agency booking our bus tickets, which left within the hour.

Since Sarah's host mom had needed to leave that night, we ended up having to spend almost twice as much on the bus tickets.. but this bus was pretty nice. Leather seats, headphones with music and movies. We got back to Lima around 3pm the next day, which was a lot shorter of a ride than when we had gone to Cusco in the first place. We spent the next two days back in Lima as we had before, with Sarah's mom shopping and going to churches while Sarah and I just wandering around. Our flight was late Thursday night, getting into Santa Crux at 3am on Friday. I ended up just going to Sarah's house and then coming home the next day.

Even though this trip wasn't what I expected, having everything being as stressful as it could've possibly been (as well as particularly rushed) I am so grateful that I got another opportunity to see more of the beauty that South America holds. Sarah and I realized that we are the only exchange students that have left the country (more than once may I add) excluding the ones that have switched countries. We have been extremely lucky and this year has made me appreciate this continent immensely. I cannot wait to come here on my own to explore every crevice..

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Week 24

Back from my trip, back to normal life in Santa Cruz. A bit of adjustment time needed, to get used to the whole sitting around and doing nothing business. But I've gotten into the swing of things, and have my life back. Done a bit of pondering. I've realized that people take for granted the art of conversation, of argument. Not only do I now appreciate being able to fully understand every word of a language (even whats muttered under the breath), but also fully appreciate being able to retaliate with anything my little mind can come up with.. arguments even. You really cannot have a good argument unless you have a massive grasp on the language.

Now the past week and a half have flown by. We got back from the trip, and then there was the mental preparation for the upcoming referendum vote. Even had to go to a going away party for two students who were moving to Argentina before the vote. The day of the vote came and went. I remember discussing what the potential outcome was with a few cruceños; no possible outcome other than NO to the new constitution, they knew for a fact. Some of the not so biased opinions knew that there had to be a percentage that the SÍ vote could pass through. In the end, the sí won, and a lot of people from Santa Cruz were crushed. But nothing catastrophic happened.

Then Ethan was in Santa Cruz, to prepare his Brazilian visa (lucky bum, going to Brasil), which kept us busy for almost a week. Everyone got together almost every night to do something, like go out for dinner, or to a concert. I even saw the movie Benjamin Button, which was a pretty good movie. Some of the exchange students are preparing to go back to school (university and high school both start TOMORROW), so we checked out one of the universities. I myself have been chatting with my parents about my options (twice graduated and too old for high school, yet can't take uni courses in case of loss of scholarships).. We've figured that I'll take spanish classes, cooking classes and get a gym pass for the time being. My dad has a friend that is involved in an orchestra here, so I might get involved with that as well.

Then yesterday, my family decided to take a trip to Buena Vista, a little town about 100kms from Scz... for some down time. It was a three hour drive, and we stayed in a little cabaña with friends of the family. It was very chill, with not much to do but lounge in the hammack and read my book (The Satanic Verses, it's finally coming along!). I realized here (although I've had this realization before) that I am living in a tropical environment... It happens from time to time, either lounging by the pool in the swealtering heat and noticing the latin tunes and the palm trees, or reading a description about a tropical land and looking around to see everything described. We were right near a national park (parque Amboró), and I felt it with the green everywhere. I even got to see a tucan (THE most gorgeous bird to ever exist) and cocoa beans. Those made me think about the episode of The Magic Schoolbus, where they go to the rainforest. I am SO close to it all!

Arriving back in Santa Cruz, I am back in the city... awat from the gorgeousness and lushness of Bolivian nature. I now realize it's February and Superbowl time woooo hoooo :\ I now have preparations to make, because Sarah and I are off to PERÚ next week.. MACHU PICCHU, HERE I COME!!!!