Saturday, February 6, 2016

January 2016 Trip: Peru Recap

After spending 10 days in Peru and Bolivia, I'm already plotting a return to South America. Sourabh and I both loved our trip so much, and we cannot wait to explore more of the incredible continent.
Since Sourabh and I weren't sure if we'd be able to take a vacation until early December, we used a travel agent who'd been recommended to me. If anyone is looking for someone to plan their next vacation, please reach out -- I'd wholeheartedly recommend her. It was $75 per person, and the peace of mind it gave us and time it saved us planning was completely worth it. If we'd had six months to plan it, I would have done it on our own (although having someone who could pick out wonderful guides was great), but on such a short timeline to plan, it was great to have it taken care of for us.

Although guides aren't necessary in Bolivia or Peru, since neither Sourabh nor I are fluent in Spanish, it was really helpful to have someone who could translate signs and descriptions, help us check in to our hotels, etc. Plus, whenever I had a question, I could just ask our guide. (For example, in Peru: "Why are there sticks with different colored bags hanging outside buildings?" "That indicates what they serve." "Why do women wear flowers on their hats?" "To demonstrate that they're single and looking to get married.") A huge part of my joy in traveling to another country is learning about the culture, and having guides made that much easier, especially since we didn't speak the language.

As a side note, summer (since Peru and Bolivia are below the Equator) is actually the rainy season, but we had great weather the whole time. We were worried about rain on a few days, but the only day it really rained was the day we traveled from Peru to Bolivia. We were so lucky!

We flew out from LAX to Lima on Friday, January 8. We had a nonstop flight and got in past midnight. We spent the night in Lima, then boarded a flight early the next morning to head to Cusco. We were picked up from the airport in Cusco by our guide, Holber.

Flying over Cusco.
You actually get snacks on domestic flights in Peru and Bolivia! 

We drove out of Cusco and through the Andean highlands to the Sacred Valley. The highlands were just stunning -- Holber mentioned that tourists say they look like Switzerland, and I while I haven't been there, the views reminded me of Bavaria in Germany. The difference, of course, is that farming is done by ox instead of by tractor, and the women were wearing much more colorful clothing.

On the way to the Sacred Valley, we took a slight detour and stopped at the ruins of Moray. The circular terraces were used for agricultural experimentation. There is a difference of over 25 degrees Fahrenheit between the top level and the bottom level, enabling the agriculturalists to study in what climate different vegetables and plants grew the best.

Additionally, when the bottom terrace filled up with water, it was used as a mirror so that astronomers could analyze the stars.

Next, we drove past the salt mines of Maras. Salt mines aren't normally in the mountains, but this area used to be under the ocean. Over thousands of years, the seabed was pushed up by tectonic plates to become the Andes, so, incredibly, at over 10,000 feet, you have sea salt. A spring filters out the salt and the terraced ponds capture it.

Late in the afternoon, we drove down past Urubamba and into the small town of Yucay, where our hotel was located. We stayed at the Sonesta Posadas del Inca Sacred Valley, which is a monastery that was converted into a hotel. It was absolutely gorgeous, and was probably my favorite hotel we stayed at in Peru.

We had a late lunch and then a snack at the bar for dinner before heading to bed early since we had an early pick-up to head to Machu Picchu the next morning.

Sunday morning, our guide picked us up and we headed from our hotel to Ollantaytambo, with Holber pointing out ruins along the way. The Sacred Valley is dotted with Inca food storehouses, guardhouses, and even some temples. In Ollantaytambo, we boarded a Peru Rail train that took us to Aguas Calientes, with some snacks on the way. (I was a huge fan of all the snacks on transportation.)

One fun part of having a guide is that they are always taking pictures of you. Sourabh and I are terrible about taking pictures of us -- I think the number of pictures our guides took of us was higher than the number of pictures we've ever had taken of us together. It was kind of hilarious how insistent both Holber and our Bolivian guide, Grace, were about taking our pictures!

Aguas Calientes
Once we got to Aguas Calientes, we boarded a bus that took us up the windy dirt road to Machu Picchu.

This is from the hike we did the next day but it shows you how windy the switchbacks are.
You have to wait in line a bit to get in to Machu Picchu, but it was a fairly short wait (I'd say about 15 minutes at most). Also, there are only bathrooms outside the ruins, and they cost 1 or 2 soles, so be prepared for that if you're visiting!

Llamas wander around the farming terraces on the southern side of the ruins.

The Sacred River winds around Macchu Picchu.

Our guide, Holber, and us.

Originally all of the buildings would have had thatch roofs like the above.
The Sun Temple is on the left -- it has the finest stone work. Note that these stones were split off from huge rocks by using chisels and water. These rocks were fit together incredibly tightly, and they had nothing but chisels and water to do it. Most of the structures did not have such fine stone work, but since the Sun Temple was the most sacred site, it received the best work.
After exploring the ruins for four hours, doing a full tour of the site, we had lunch at Belmont Sanctuary. It was a large buffet of different kinds of Peruvian food, and it was all delicious. Once we'd stuffed ourselves, we took a bus back down to Aguas Calientes and checked in to our hotel, explored the market and bought some souvenirs, and then had another great meal at our hotel.

The next morning, we took the bus back up to Machu Picchu to hike Huayna Picchu, the mountain you can see below:

Since we got to the ruins so early (we had the 7 a.m. hiking slot), there were few people wandering around, and I got a lot of neat shots of empty ruins with mist curling around them.

As you can see, the farming terraces on the southern end of Machu Picchu account for a huge portion of the ruins.

The terraces of the Inca civilization were incredible. They utilized different kinds of soil, sand and gravel to create a filtration system so that no matter how much it rained, the terraces never flooded.

The Sacred River winding through the Andes. 

As a word of caution, only 400 people are allowed to hike Huayna Picchu per day, and you have to book the tickets far in advance if you're going during the high season (which is June through August). Also, it is steep. It's basically stairs all the way up with no flat portion as a break. You're at about 8,000 ft., so air is thinner. I'm still in pretty good cardio shape and I was definitely breathing heavily hiking up, so I would just caution everyone to be careful if they do this hike (our guide said people have had heart attacks and it's hard to get medical care at this remote a location).

After the hike, we took the bus back to Aguas Calientes where we had lunch and learned more about Peruvian politics with Holber.

Our lunch wasn't that great, but the view of the main square of Aguas Calientes was nice.

After lunch, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo, where we were picked up by car to go back to Cusco.

The drive was just incredibly gorgeous. I was basically glued to my window the entire time.

We arrived in Cusco around 5:30 p.m. and wandered around the main square for a little while before we headed back to our hotel and had another delicious dinner. We had to get to sleep early since we were being picked up at 4:30 a.m. for our flight to La Paz the next morning!

It would have been nice to have a bit more time in Cusco, but we were more excited to explore the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, and since we only had 10 days (which became 7 with travel), sacrifices had to be made. Guess we'll just have to go back!

Next up: Bolivia!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Life Lately: Jan 2016

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season.

Christmas Cat!

My parents came down on the 16th and stayed with us for about two weeks. We're renting a townhouse, and I can't tell you the difference it makes when we have guests. It was really pleasant to have my parents (and sister for six days) because we all had enough space that we weren't crammed in.

I closed a deal on December 24th, so I had barely any work the rest of December, and I was able to really take it easy between Christmas and New Years. The end of the year can be hectic, so having that week off after the craziness of the previous couple weeks was wonderful.

Unfortunately, running has not been so great. I've had "traveling" aches and pains that mean I can't really run more than three miles right now. I mean, I could, but it wouldn't be smart, and why hurt myself just to run an extra couple of miles right now?

The beautiful sunset run that led to that photo also led to a day or two of weird achey pain on the left side of my left thigh.

Sam, my physical therapist, thinks that a lot of this is in reaction to general post-marathon tightness combined with some long hours I pulled in the weeks following the marathon (i.e. a ton of sitting), along with tweaks in form that are happening as I work to activate my glutes more. I'm focusing on strength training that activates the glutes, core work and stabilization work. It's not the most "fun", but it will pay off in the long run.

Thankfully, though, none of these aches and pains have extended to hiking, so while my parents were visiting we did plenty of that. Nothing too strenuous since my mom is unfortunately dealing with some foot and hamstring issues (we're on the injured struggle bus together), but enough to get some gorgeous views.

We hiked around Palos Verdes a bit:

Hiked a couple miles up Black Star Canyon (and I am coming back to run this gorgeous trail when I am 100%):

Did some hiking on the San Juan Trail and checked out the views from the Main Divide Truck Trail:

And hit up the Harding Truck Trail when my cousin, Julia, came down from LA for brunch and a hike:

My parents left on the 29th, so Sourabh and I had a quiet New Years Eve at home. It consisted of a home-cooked meal, Mean Girls, and working on my selfie skills with Mason.

Very productive NYE.
On New Years, we dropped by Ochoa's Chorizo, which, as the name might have given away, makes chorizo. Like, good chorizo. Really good. We bought several different kinds and experimented with different recipes over the weekend. Highly recommend picking some up if you're ever in the SoCal area.

We also tried out a new sunset-viewing spot, above Corona del Mar. Two thumbs up.

The next day, I drove up to LA to hike the Hollywood sign trail with my cousin. It was a pretty packed trail, but that didn't make it less enjoyable, and thankfully it was pretty clear so we got some great views:

I've also embraced the down time to read several books, something I totally failed at in 2015. I'm hoping to make 2016 the year of the glorious return to reading. It's just so much more rewarding than scrolling through social media. Since December 28th, I've read:

  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (Kaling and Tina Fey are my favorite celebrity authors, with apologies to Amy Poehler -- also they're the only three I've read...)
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (largely set 15 years prior to and then 15 years after an apocalyptic pandemic -- the writing was fantastic and the story kept me up past midnight to finish it. It was nominated for a National Book Award and won a science fiction award, deservedly, I think.)
  • This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (he is such a wonderful writer, I enjoyed this book even though I didn't really like the main character that connects the short stories together.)
  • After Dark by Haruki Murakami (my first Murakami book, but definitely not my last. Like with Station Eleven, I stayed up late tearing through this book.)
So, clearly I'm on a good run with reading. Hoping that even when work picks back up I can continue to read at least a few books each month. 

Tomorrow we fly to Peru and Bolivia, and I am so excited! It's the rainy season so the weather might not be ideal, but exploring a new place is always fun regardless of weather. I'll post plenty of pictures once I get back, and then I'll start detailing some of the strength and physical therapy work that I'm doing.