Warning: There are a lot of Machu Picchu photos in this post. I just loved it so so much, I can't choose the single best.
Mother's Day in Peru was quite a big deal! Everything in the town completely shut down, because the government put on a presentation for all the mothers. There was a lot of talking, a little singing, some kids saying why they love their moms, a raffle, and then free food and a gift bag for all the moms! The gift bag had things like rice, canned milk... other processed goods. So anyway, they set up tents, people got dressed up- it was fun!
It seems EVERY woman had at least 3 kids in tow- ages 3,2, and an infant! We learned that through their catholic roots, they do not believe in protection and just mother all the babies that come to their family.
All the little babies had chapped cheeks from sun exposure- so sad! Even lots of adults have scarring on their cheeks.
Quinoa soup! So delicious! We got an outdoor seat for lunch and were able to watch the Mother's Day festivities from a chair- lucky!
These tuk tuk rides were 1 sol each (30 cents) So worth it instead of walking the long road to the train station.
So the way we did Machu Picchu (Which worked well enough, but I don't totally recommend): We bought train tickets and entrance tickets separately in Cusco! Then we got ourselves to Ollantaytambo, (about 1.5 hours away) via taxi, stayed the night and then rode the train to Aguas Callientes. Then in the morning, you bus 30 min to the ruins. Then, do it all backwards. It's quite the ordeal, but it only adds to the hype of Machu Picchu!
Meeting new traveler friends is one of our favorite things. These Canadians were fun and we actually bumped into them twice, in two different places!
Our best meal of the trip was acutally at the train station in Ollantaytambo! It is called El Albergue. We even put on our fancy clothes for this "expensive" meal, costing $8-10 each.
And then in the morning, we arrived! We woke up about 5am to get on the 6am bus. In retrospect, I would have gotten on the 5 or 5:30am bus. The morning hours are so gorgeous and less busy! I would say go early early, then enjoy lunch and a nap in the shade during the hot, busy mid-day hours, then explore again at 2pm or so when things start clearing out. You can walk and explore all through the ruins and we spent all day without getting bored! We did a private tour (We would have done a group if we could have found an English one!) and paid $10 each for that experience. I would TOTALLY recommend a tour with a good English guide so you can really learn about the history, find secret carvings, understand the hierarchy and vision for Machu Picchu. Wandering aimlessly with your guide book and hoping you're looking at the right thing is good, but if you've come this far, do the tour!
We had a beautiful day!
Such precise stonework!
They plant 8-10 alpacas at Machu Picchu for tourist's pleasure. They did add to they experience :)
People always share photos of the actual Machu Picchu, but before going, you never realize that it is surrounded by super- high, majestic mountains. It is just so magnificent- you must go. Peru is definitely one of my top trips I've been on. Culturally vibrant, gorgeous land, indigenous, friendly people, great, cheap food, easy transportation... it is just a great package!
We took the hike up to Sun Gate, where the Inca Trail hikers enter the site. It's a pretty spectacular view!
You should have seen me chasing this alpaca so I could get the photo... :)
All the terracing for growing, and to support the city so it didn't slide down the mountain!
The day after Machu Picchu, we went back to Cusco via the Salineras and Maras/Moray. It was a fun stop, but not the most amazing thing we did. After seeing Machu Picchu, the maras were a little bit of a let-down.
But I did love the Salineras! I would probably recommend doing the Salineras/Moray region region by horse. They had pretty cheap tours and I think that horse element would really add to the experience. Each of these salt pans are privately owned. We met one man who has 5 salt pans, a farm and one other job as well. People just do this for a little extra money.
Scott's great Spanish came in really handy on this trip. He befriended the salt man, and we each got to try compounding the pan. That wood block Scott is holding weighs about 50lbs, it was a LOT harder than it looks!
Then, we took a bus (I forget the company!) from Cusco to Puno for about $20 for a 6 hour ride. It was quite long, but the seats reclined and we watched movies on the ipad. Did I mention that an ipad is about the best travel accessory I can imagine?!? Scott got it right before Costa Rica and we have loved it this year. Anyway, we arrived in Puno (Intiqa Hotel was the best!!) and spent the evening exploring to our heart's content.
8am came early and we were picked up for our Lake Titicaca tour. We loved doing this as a tour because we got to participate in the Isla Amantani home stay, and because we met new friends and just had a lot of fun!
Atop our slow boat!
Here are the Uros Islands (Do you remember when they were featured in the Ensign?) The Uros are built by reeds and are known as the "floating islands." It was really a highlight of the trip to see how these people live as a community and continue building their own island every week/month.
They also eat the reeds. The calcium makes their teeth extra white!
I wonder when they start teaching swim lessons!?! It seems the babies could fall off the island at any moment!
Then we took a little reed boat ride.
That night we spent at Isla Amantani. When you arrive to the island, the Director of Tourism assigns each tourist to a local family. Our local was a single woman, but lots of our friends were placed with families with several kids and other family living there too. Here is Maricella:
We felt lucky she spoke Spanish. The local language is Quechua. Maricella went to school to learn Spanish as her second language.
We hiked to the top of the island for sunset, which was quite the challenge with the altitude. I thought that walk would never end... but I went fast to stay ahead of our 70 year old Belgian friends. We met them on the boat, they "Practice hiking" in Spain for 4 months a year. I wasn't about to get passed by the oldies!
We made it!
And then that night, we put on Maricella's clothes and went to the town square for a dance! It. was. awesome. And also, the other best travel tool is a headlamp. We used those all the time!
Look how local we look!
Maricella gave us a thyme tea. It was delicious.
We were pretty sure we had the best home stay, considering our large bedroom, and grand dining hall with all glass windows for the view. Some of our friends had dirt floors with no electricity and small kitchen tables where there wasn't enough space for everyone. Well, we were sure of our "best home stay" status when we woke up and found the tour guide for our group sleeping in the room next door.
The following day was Isla Taquile where there happened to be a wedding going on. I tried not to take too many pictures since I wouldn't want a bunch of tourists up in my face clicking away on my wedding day...
But here is the bride from afar. She has at least 30 skirts on! A sign of honor.
And finally, our friends: On the left are a fun couple from Amsterdam, still can't pronounce/spell their names, and then the Belgian couple in the middle. He doesn't look 70, does he?!?
We had such a great trip! I don't usually put a place back on my travel list after just going there, but I have a secret feeling that this wasn't my last time at Machu Picchu. I don't know when we'll get back, but I hope it happens one day!