20140828

Machu Picchu

In Machu Picchu, acts of desecration are forbidden. It is considered to have been a sacred place to the Incans, and thus, a sacred place to the modern people of Perú.

To visit this place, I paid four hundred and fifty soles in train tickets, sixty soles for bus tickets, and a hundred and forty soles in order to get in the gates. In total, six hundred and fifty soles. The average Peruano earns one thousand five hundred soles per month.

The UN estimates that Machu Picchu can sustain up to five hundred visitors a day. The Peruano government has agreed to limit access to two thousand five hundred people a day. Two thousand five hundred tickets to Machu Picchu.

However, they also sell four hundred tickets to Machu Picchu mountain and four hundred to Huanu Picchu mountain. Both tickets also include the right to visit Machu Picchu.

Finally, if you purchase your train tickets before your ticket to Machu Picchu, the Oficina de la Cultura will sell you a ticket for a later date, stamp the ticket, and then scratch it out, writing in a date to match the one on your train ticket.

A local conservationist, he estimated to me that there are approximately five thousand visitors a day during high season. Ten times as many people as Machu Picchu can support without risking its future.

Originally, I wrote a humorous piece about how to get some alone time with Machu Picchu when it attracts more visitors every day than Disney World. How to take pictures without hordes of picture snapping tourists in each one of them.

But, I suppose, one desecration from me is enough.

20140827

Cuzco

Perú is not Bolivia. Cuzco is not La Paz.

Someone I travelled with in Perú, we held a conversation about places that really affected us. That even though they aren't where we live, we feel a connection to them. This because of my reaction to hearing the news that Valpairiso partially burnt down.

My reaction being that I said I was devastated. I was devastated because a place I saw once, that I may never see again, that, for me, exists as a memory, changed in a negative fashion. For me, my memory was affected, and I felt devastated. Meanwhile, people who actually live there, well, many of them lost their homes. And I was devastated.

When I arrived in Cusco, I felt comfortable. At first glance, it looked like La Paz, Bolivia. But then, where is all the street food? Why is it so expensive? Why am I being hounded by young women offering massages? Why are there so many tourists around? Where is the api?

Yes, it's Andean. Yes, they can speak Quechua in the region. Yes, even the souvenirs are pretty much the same thing. But, I am not in La Paz.

Here, I can eat cuy. Drink chicha morada. Get a masaje for veinte soles. There's a parrillada up the calle from la plaza de armas with great anticuchos. And, let us not forget, one of the wonders of the world located a train ride away.

My last night there, I finally took a picture of the beautiful night skyline, when the casas running up the mountainside are illuminated.

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Photographic evidence of Cuzco is located on facebook in the album entitled Cuzco.

20140824

Aguas Calientes

Make no mistake. Aguas Calientes, now officially known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is one if the most beautiful little towns I've ever seen.

It is nestled into a little valley in the Andes, surrounded on all sides by giant green mountains. It has a river the runs through the centre of it, joining a river that runs along its eastern side.

The town has lovely fountains along its main roads, and interesting stonework along its walls. There are no cars. No taxis. No honking.

It is beautiful.

However, the town is completely unnatural. Almost every person who lives there works to feed us, shelter us, or sell mass produced artisanal works to us.

The first sight you are greeted with upon exiting the train (the only way in or out of Aguas Calientes, other than walking), is the Artisans Market, where you can buy the same t-shirts, jewelery, Incan vs. Conquistador chess sets, "real" alpaca sweaters and toques, that they sell in the stall next door. Or even the stall in the next city over. Or the next country over.

When you stay, you'll pay more for less whether it's hostel or hotel. My hostel featured no wifi, screaming kids who played with your belongings if you leave them unattended on the bed in your room, and a bar open late with loud music when most people want to wake up early to go to Machu Picchu.

And eventually, you're hungry, so you step into a restaurant. You'll have plenty of options, each street is littered with restaurants. All more expensive than anywhere else in Perú.

And that's just from the menu. When you receive your bill, you'll likely get hit with either a servicio charge, or an imaginary tax of anywhere from ten to thirty percent.

And it is all thanks to us.

Rich tourists who want to see Machu Picchu.

Prior to our desire to see one of the wonders of the world, there was no Aguas Calientes.

Just a beautiful valley surrounded on all sides by giant green mountains.

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Photographic evidence is on facebook in the folder entitled Aguas Calientes.

20140821

The camera

Normally, the camera was kept in the left front pocket of my jeans. However, as we descended into the canyon, the temperature rose. That, and the physical exertion, meant that I needed to change out of jeans into my shorts.

At first, I tried the camera in the pocket of the shorts, but every step would cause it to slap heavily against my thigh.

My rucksack would be a potential location, but I was snapping so many pictures that it would have meant removing my rucksack as frequently as every twenty steps.

However, the rucksack's shoulder straps have space between the strap and the padding. Space enough to tuck the camera into.

For the next twenty four hours, every time I took off my rucksack, I would forget the camera was there, and without being pressed against me, the straps would go slack and the camera would fall out. Fall out and hit the ground.

As we neared the Oasis, our second pit stop in our hike through the Cañon del Colca, we crossed a bridge and some of the people in our group wanted their picture taken.

The bridge is rather narrow, and in order to get both them and some of the scenery into the same picture, I needed to lean back over the railing. Lean baaaaaacccck and snap the photo.

The railing, pressing against my rucksack, lifted it, slackening the straps, and right after the picture clicks, the camera slipped out of its nestle.

Turning my head downwards, I followed it onto the wall of the canyon, where it bounced off and into the river below.

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Photographic evidence of the trip into the Cañon del Colca is on facebook in the folder named Cañon del Colca.

20140820

Cuy

When it arrived at my table, I started sawing away with my knife on his back. Nothing happened. I really leaned into it for the second attempt. Not much better.

I called over the waiter and asked him for a sharper knife. He said they have some, but cuy is not eaten with a knife and fork, too bony, it is eaten with the hands.

The hands? And I mimed picking up the cuy and eating it like it was corn on the cob.

He said, yes, the hands.

After some hesitation, I picked up the front half with my right hand, the back with my left, and brought my hands together as if I were bending a steel bar. The bones inside the cuy cracked, but the body remained intact.

I moved my left hand to a hind leg, my right grabbed the torso in the centre, and I twisted with my left hand until the leg came off.

And I began to eat.

The skin was thick and rubbery, not my favourite part, I ended up leaving most of it intact, instead peeling the cuy like a banana.

The meat was white and either they used very interesting spices or it is the tastiest meat God placed on this Earth. There is, however, very little of it. So you pick up the leg, or the back half, or the front half, and you gnaw. You gnaw to get as much meat as you can from it.

In the centre, underneath, there was a huge hole with a green paste that would be dripping out of it were it more liquid. It looked just like tomali does from a lobster.

Inside the hole, I saw the two little kidney's just hanging out. The only organs visible.

Now, I hate offal. From any animal I've eaten, I've hated offal. So I ripped one out of his inside and take the tiniest bite. Not bad. Soft. Tender. And, like the body, it absorbed the spices quite well.

In the end, I don't think I did a very good job of eating cuy. I'm sure there were little hidden caches of meat that I was missing.

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Photographic evidence is on facebook in the folder entitled Cuy.