We are about to pass hour 9 of 14 hrs on a bus and I figured it would be a great time to start writing my first blog entry. Rex has been the masta of the blog and has done all the entries so far. Incredible boredom is starting to set in right now and it seems the last 3-4 hrs of a trip always seem like the longest.
To give you guys a little but of a rundown of where we are and how we got here, we left Cusco,Peru on the night of Saturday Feb 2nd, on a overnight bus to Arequipa. After a crazy whirl wind bus ride of 3 different buses, a boarder crossing and being in the driest desert in the world, we were super amped to finally get to Arica, Chile. From there we spent 3 nights there, surfing and planning our next leg. After some weird rash, amazing mahi mahi and fun surf, it was time for us to move on. On Wednesday the 5th we flew out from Arica to Santiago and it was only going to take 4 hrs….what a treat. We were initially debating on busing to Santiago but we decided it was worth the money to avoid 30 hrs of checking out more desert. And by desert I mean not even a damn tree in sight! Nothing! Nada!! Just good old sand and rock and a bunch of it!
Flying was the best decision yet!
We had avoided the reciprocal fee for entering Chile via bus and still got to cover some ground without paying an insane amount of money. To give you a little Insight, flying in South America is not cheap, ESP. From one country to the next. Your best bet is always to try and get into the country and then fly within. You will save up to $500 per person and like I said for Chile, avoid the $160 reciprocity fee for coming via land and not flying. I must say figuring that out is one of my more proud research/creative planning moves. (Yes, I am padding myself on the back)
We got to Santiago at 9 am, got sorted pretty fast and decided to take the Free Walking Tour which conveniently started at our hostel.
We, unexpectedly, ran into another couple that we had travelled with a few days earlier and were excited to see.
The walking tour was a blast. We would highly recommend this tour to anybody. They guy who runs it, is a local but has lived all over the world. He started this tour, after leading his friends from out of town around town and figured, why not do this for other travelers?!
Long story short, he gives you a more cultural, off the beaten path point of view, from a “coffee with legs”, to the oldest bar in Santiago, it was a blast! Oh and all on tip basis, so pay what you want!
I just want to touch base really on two things we saw:
The definite highlight was coffee with legs! In a nutshell: beautiful women, in string bikinis, serving coffee. This only exists in business district of Santiago. And it’s not very well documented. But you feel like you are walking into a strip joint, black lights, pumping techno, striper shoes and almost naked ladies, only to find a barista making one of the better espressos I have had in a while. Pretty genius I think. I guess about 20 years ago there were only 3 of them and now there are 300 within the business district in Santiago . No dancing, no sex, no booze just a good old coffee shop with legs! And this is only in Santiago!!
Second best was the oldest bar in Santiago. We all got a terromoto drink, which is no joke! Let’s talk intense, knock you off your feet intense!! Homemade pineapple sorbet + home made wine + some other alcohol + grenadine = hangover
Somehow we ended up ordering a grande and every other person in the bar stared at us like we were crazy! We drank it between 4 of us and ended up with a pretty solid buzz at 4 in the afternoon.
Santiago was definitely a pleasant surprise for us, besides the above mentioned, it is extremely well put together, with a great public transportation system that is similar to any large european city, nice people, a climate like Southern California, roads without potholes, toilets with toilet seats and tp, proper sparkling water and a lot of history and culture. The mountains with snow are right around the corner and the ocean is at your footsteps littered with beach breaks, in a nutshell : it has the key to our hearts:)
We spent the rest of our night hanging out at the pool at our hostel and drinking with other travelers we met throughout the day. It was a nice evening which we both really enjoyed and next thing you know we were up at 6 am again, getting ready to head to the bus station.
As previously mentioned the roads have been such a great surprise for us. Perus buses are better but the roads just suck! The buses have wifi, toilets, descent food, free movies/entertainment screens. Chilean buses might not be the greatest (a seat, a window, no AC, semi functioning toilet) but man-o-man…the roads are smoother than a babies butt!! (Disclaimer: We have only taken one bus so far in Chile, so there might be some fancy buses out there too, we were just happy we got a bus down to puerto montt, due to it being high season and lack of Spanish skills to ask)
Within the 12 hrs bus ride, we have seen a great change in scenery and we were quite happy to take a day bus instead of another night bus.
Like I mentioned before, Santiago has a similar climate to southern California, desert with some trees and brush, rolling straight from the mountains into the ocean. It’s warm but not too warm and cooler at night.
We have now transitioned into a more Oregon coast like scenery and it seems like we are just driving north along the west coast of the us, except we are in South America and heading south…really far south:)
Tomorrow we hopefully get onto a ferry for 4 days and end up at our destination of Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del pain national park and the famous “W” hike! It only took us a week to get down the here!
So, we took a 12 hour bus ride towards the coast to Arequipa, then a 7 hour bus ride to Tacna, then a local bus for 2 hours across the border into Chile. Last night we met a local guy here at our hostal who said he’d take us surfing today. A couple Aussies jumped in the van this morning and off we went. We pulled out into the beach and drove around until we found some surf. Not very big, but super fun beach break. Kinda mushy rights and lefts that reform into inside runners. We’ll be here a couple of days surfing and planning the next leg of our trip and then off to santiago.
Day 4 of the inca trail was Machu Picchu. Our guide woke us up at 3:30am to get ready and have a quick breakfast. After breakfast we walked down to the control point (or entrance into Machu Picchu) and there we waited 2 hours for the gates to open. The reason for this is because there are 200 other hikers all wanting to get there first. The park only allows 500 people on the trail each day. 200 hikers and 300 porters. We were the second team at the gate.
After the gates opened we hiked 2 hours to the sun gate. The sun gate is where everybody waits for the sun to come over the mountain and light up Machu Picchu. In the pics you can see the beam hitting the city first. Once we arrived at Machu Picchu there were already people there from the bus tours and what not. I think most people take the train and then a bus to Machu Picchu. They can do that in a day. Lots of people do the inca trail as well but the experience is different. In all honesty the highlight of of the trip was the trail itself. MP was amazing, it just felt a little like Disneyland when we got there. Or maybe it was the fact that we’d been hiking alone for four days and we were just overwhelmed by the people there.
Our appreciation runs extremely deep for MP and the inca trail! Although in the end MP did feel like icing on the cake.Wayna Picchu on the other hand was absolutely amazing. Wayna Picchu (1,180 ft above Machu Picchu) is the large mountain you see within Machu Picchu. There are ruins on top you can’t really see and the stair case is pretty much vertical. It took an hour to go up and an hour to come down. Just about when you think you can’t hike anymore, Wayna Picchu stares you down for one last quad burner. The views from WP are uncanny and here you can see the entirety of the city.
After MP we took a bus down to aguas calientes to meet up with our guide for lunch and say our farewell to him. We had some celebratory drinks and jumped on a train for 2 hours. Made it back into cusco around 9:30pm and that was that.
All in all we hiked for 4 days, 26 miles, and about 16,500 ft in elevation changes including Wayna Picchu.
On day 2 we came into camp kinda of late. We couldn’t see anything because of the heavy fog. It rained all night but it didn’t matter because we were beat. Slept like babies. So, on the morning of the third day we woke up to an absolutely stellar view of the surrounding mountains. Including mt. salkantay at 20,574 ft. We were looking forward to the third day because it was meant to be a mellow hiking day and we’d be done by 12. We hiked for two hours on a somewhat mellow trail. Couple steep parts but not too bad. Lots of cool views and hand carved tunnels throughout the trail. We took a family picture with the porters at the last peak before we started a three hour descent of stairs. We’d stop at inca ruins along the way down and rest and julien our guide would give us mini history lessons.
We ended up at a camp ground/ waiting area. This is where all the hikers on the inca trail sleep at the night before the two hour push at 3:30 in the morning to see the sun rise at Machu Picchu.
The ruins you see in these pics are from a place called mini Machu Picchu. The four of us had it all to ourselves, except for some curious llamas. Fearless animals, super timid. Sometimes they’d look at you like they wanted to spit at you. Mini MP was a really special place. There were irrigation systems that had been set up 5-600 years ago that were still intact and running. The incas where truly an amazing people. Some of these ruins still have not yet been found. Part of mini MP was uncovered less then a month ago. Some people think the terraces start at the river and go all the way to the top of the mountain.
Day 2 on the inca trail was by far the more challenging of the 4 days. In the first couple pics where we are standing around talking are taken right before we had a grueling 4 hour climb straight up to the summit.(dead woman’s pass). Then a 2 hour descent where we had lunch. You can see the photo with the waterfall on the right and the red and blue tents set up. That’s where we had lunch. Then a 2 hour straight up hill stair master workout, followed by another 2 hour descent into the final stop of the day. In the last 2-3 hours we were hiking in really cold, heavy mist, hence the rain poncho.
Total we hiked for 10 hours on our second day and summited 2 mountains. Dead woman’s pass is 13,779 ft. then down to 11,700 ft., then back up to 13,123 ft. And then down one last time to 11,800 where we camped. For me personally it was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever attempted. We loved every minute of it!!!!
On Friday morning we woke up at 3:45am to catch a bus to the start of the inca trail. We stopped at a little town for breakfast, then we set off 2 hours to the control point for Machu Picchu park. Here the porters in the red uniforms packed all of the supplies for 4 days. Tents, food, cooking utensils, everything to keep the ship afloat for the next couple days basically. Caro and I opted to carry our own gear. The weather was hot but manageable and the first couple hours we were both just happy to be on the trail hiking.
The first day we hiked 7 hours and by the end of the day we were second guessing what we had gotten ourselves into. It was mostly uphill for those 7 hours. Seriously, we were struggling. The crew consisted of a couple in their 30’s from England, our tour guide, and 11 porters to carry all the gear. We saw some inca ruins and one of the highest peaks in Peru called mt. Veronica. A couple times we were hiking it felt more like Hawaii then peru. Super tropical and lush, then we’d hike to a plateau and then it felt like high desert again. We had to be ready for all conditions, and according to the forecast, it looked like rain for us.
The first day was beautiful, great weather, but we had no idea what we were getting into….
We’ve pretty much fallen in love with this place. There’s just something about this town thats kind of magical. The food is amazing, the people are amazing. You couldn’t ask for more culture and/or history. Are initial plan was to leave on Monday and head to Arequipa and Puno (lake titicaca). From there we were going to take another bus south towards Santiago, Chile. Instead, we’ve decided to skip all that and stay two weeks in Cusco. We signed ourselves up for spanish classes everyday until we leave. Basically everyday we go to class at 2 o’clock and learn grammar for 2 hours. Then for another 2 hours we walk around the city and practice what we’ve learned in class. Totally separate from each other. Carolin has her 2 teachers, and I have my 2 teachers. The class is taught all in espanol! Super fun but really frustrating. Everyday at 4 o’clock my brain feels like it’s going explode.