The next day we joined a tour group of about fifteen people and spent the day driving up and down the mountains near Cusco. We went to the Pisac market which is known for the quality of its handicrafts like scarves, hats, blankets, and jewelry. We also went to the Pisac ruins and learned a lot about the Incas. Like how they built terraces to make the most of farmable land to grow potatoes, corn, and wheat like quinoa. Or how they built their homes high up in the mountains to have security from attackers, protection from the earthquakes that rocked the valleys but didn't destroy so many buildings on the mountains, and to be physically closer to their Creator in the heavens. We saw some amazing examples of Incan architecture at the ruins of Ollantaytambo where they carved the stones so perfectly that you cannot stick a piece of paper between the cracks and no mortar was used to construct the buildings and walls.
On our third full day in Peru, we decided to go back to the market at Pisac because we hadn't had enough time on our tour the first day to explore all of the stores and look at all of the items for sale. We spent a few hours there, wandering around, fingering the beautiful alpaca wool goods and eyeing the vicious looking weapons that were offered for sale. It was so fun to barter with the shop owners and learn about the different products like Andean flutes and Incan ritual weapons (replicas) used in sacrifices.
After spending the morning at the market, we boarded the Vistadome train for the 1 1/2 hour ride through a narrow valley alongside a river to the little town of Aguas Calientes. For anyone going to Peru, I recommend this train option because it has amazing views and only costs about $7/pp more than the cheaper Backpacker train which we took on the way back. The landscape changed a lot along the train ride, starting from the more barren, chilly, brush near Cusco (although you actually catch the train in the town of Ollantaytambo which is an hour's taxi ride from Cusco), to dry, mountainous, warm jungle at Aguas Calientes.
The next morning, we got up at what we thought was an early hour - 6:00 am, and caught a bus to Machu Picchu by 7:00 am. Turns out that is not nearly early enough to get to Machu Picchu. The best lighting happens really early - just as the sun is coming out - and we missed that by more than half an hour. Also, there is a hike up to the highest point of Huayna Picchu (the mountain you see in the background of the photos of Machu Picchu) where there are even more ruins, but only 400 people are allowed to do the hike each day. All of those tickets are gone within 15 to 30 minutes of the park opening, so we didn't get to hike it the first day. In fact, on our second day at Machu Picchu, we got up earlier and were in line for the buses at 5:30 am, got to the park at 6:10 am, and still didn't get tickets to hike Huayna Picchu. Fortunately, Paul is amazing and used his persuasive lawyering abilities and his incredible spanish-speaking skills to talk our way past the ticket checker who regulates the flow of hikers on the trail and we were given permission to hike Huayna Picchu anyway.
The hike was harrowing, with narrow and step stone steps hugging the backside of the mountain, ascending 1,200 feet higher than Machu Picchu by means of switchbacks and cables. But the views on the way up and at the top were totally worth it, and I would have to say that I wasn't as frightened hiking Huayna Picchu as I was when I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite a few years back.
There were a number of llamas hanging around Machu Picchu too and we were told that they were brought up there to breed and be the grounds crew. They eat the grasses that grow on the terraces so that the area is maintained with less effort. Pretty smart, huh? Plus, they are attractive, docile creatures that let us scratch their heads.
Not this one though, even when I talked to it sweetly.
After a train ride, a taxi ride, and a plane flight we made it back to Lima for our last day in Peru. My birthday in fact. We went to the main historical plaza to see the Cathedral and some of the Spanish colonial architecture and spent the morning wandering through the Museum of the Spanish Inquisition which had a bunch of wax figures being tortured on "the rack." It was creepy but super interesting. Then we made our way to Miraflores, a really touristy little area with a park full of artists selling their artwork. We bought a colorful little painting and had lunch at a really modern little restaurant before grabbing a taxi to go see the Lima, Peru temple. It was an absolutely beautiful building and it was so peaceful and serene to walk around the temple grounds. I only wish I had remembered my temple recommend so that we could have gone inside.
That night we flew out of Lima at 1:15 am bound for Mexico City. After sleeping on the plane, and waiting for over an hour to get through customs and immigration, we took a bus to Teotihuacan just outside of Mexico city. It was freezing cold, which for some reason was baffling to me because I always thought Mexico was always hot. Always. Anyway, the ruins were interesting because they were so huge and it was easy to imagine a massive civilization living there at some point, but they weren't as intricately carved as Chichen Itza or as impressively and mystifyingly situated as Machu Picchu. But it was a great way to spend a 12-hour layover.
Now we are back home in Utah just biding our time until the big move around Thanksgiving to California. Oh, and waiting for bar results. Which sucks. And now that we have some down time and the release of the results is creeping ever closer, the waiting is getting worse and worse. Every time I think about it I feel a little queasy actually. So I am trying not to think about it too much. Yeah right.
That's it guys. No more big trips for a long time now probably. But it sure has been fun seeing as much of the world as we have in the past couple of months!