As we hopped in the van to drive to Lima we felt like kids before Christmas- Benny and Crystal were coming to visit! Our good friends from California were going to be the first familiar faces from home in over 10 months. To top it off, Benny’s mother is from Peru and much of her family still lives in Lima. Time to get down with the Peruvians!
Lima is known as the gastronomic capital of South America, so of course during our week in Lima we did a lot of eating. A few food experiences were so amazing that they made me re-evaluate some of my favorite things. We ate sushi as good as the sushi at Taiko, a restaurant in Irvine, California that until this moment nothing has compared to. We had ceviche that we thought better than the ceviche in Mexico, something I didn’t think possible. We had some of the best sandwiches in the world. We went to the Chocolate Museum where we sampled chocolate liquor and ate a terremoto (earthquake), the most extraordinarily decadent chocolate mouse and brownie dessert ever (Monique, you would have died). And we ate anticucho, otherwise known as cow hearts- yes, even me and I kind of liked it!
One Saturday afternoon, Benny’s cousin Giovanni, a professional chef, cooked an eight course Peruvian meal for us so we could sample a some of Lima’s famous culinary delights. We started off with maracuya sours, a delicious traditional Peruvian alcoholic beverage made with pisco (grape brandy), sugar, egg white and fresh maracuya (passion fruit) juice. The highlight of the meal was the three types of traditional ceviche made with fresh fish and octopus and the simple combination of lime, salt, onion, and different types of aji (hot chile) that make Peruvian ceviche so amazing.
We also had a chance to meet up with the VW Club of Lima thanks to our new friend Miguel who magically found us. He rallied up a group of Westy’s and Vanagons including another couple from California traveling with their two year old daughter. Go Westy’s!
We sadly had to say goodbye to Benny’s wonderful family in order to get a start on the three day drive to Cusco where we would start our adventure to Machu Picchu. To break up this road trip within a road trip, we stopped for a wild dune buddy ride and some sand boarding in Huacachina, a little oasis town surrounded by enormous sand dunes.
A quick stop at the world famous Nazca lines, a series of ancient geoglyphs representing plants and animals, was nice but underwhelming. After hearing theories that they were created by aliens, we expected them to be unfathomably big. Instead they turned out to be nice sized pictures created by removing dark surface stones to expose the lighter sand beneath. Still cool, but definitely doable by human hands. However, we only got to see the tip of the iceberg from a viewing tower on the side of the highway since one would have to take a bumpy plane ride over the desert to see more.
After endless driving up and down the Andes mountains we finally arrived in Cusco! A beautiful old city full of history, Inka stone lined streets, and tons of tourists. We hung out for a few days while figuring out an affordable way to get to Machu Picchu.
Since the train (the most pleasant and common way of getting to Macchu Picchu) was prohibitively expensive for us, we decided to go with a $100 package that included a bus ride to and from Santa Teresa, the closest town to Machu Picchu reachable by road, two nights in a hotel in Aguas Calientes (the gateway to Machu Picchu), entrance to Machu Picchu (which is $50 in itself), a guided tour of the ruins, and meals. Along with Benny and Crystal, we joined forces with our friends Johnny and Patty of Wandaroundtheworld and their friend Kassy so that we might enjoy this adventure with good company. The crammed 7 hour bus ride winded us up and over a high pass and included a final stretch of what I call death road to Santa Teresa, a super sketchy road dug into the side of a steep cliff. As we drove along the bus driver told us stories of people falling asleep at the wheel and cheerily had us peer over the edge at ghostly trucks far below in the rubble that had gone over the edge. Yikes.
After narrowly escaping death on the death road, we arrived in Santa Teresa. From there, we walked three hours along the railroad tracks until we reached Aguas Calientes, a pleasant but expensive place also known as Machu Picchu town because its existence is solely due to the location of Machu Picchu.
A hot shower and bed put and end to the long day of traveling. We woke up at 4:30am to the sound of rain pounding on the tin roof of our hostel. We threw on our ponchos and rain gear and sleepily walked down the street to get in line for the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Luckily we were able to catch one of the first couple of buses which got us to the ruins when they opened at 6am.
And all of a sudden there we were, standing in the mist at the ruins of Machu Picchu. Wow. It was even more amazing than we could have imagined.
A hundred photos later, we started the hike up Machu Picchu mountain, overlooking the ruins and the surrounding valleys. It was like being on a stair climber for two hours straight, going up and up and up the steep, slippery stone steps. With the amount of times we all had to stop to catch our breaths we made slow progress but eventually we made it to the top where we could see the ruins in all their glory. The mountains surrounding the mountain that Machu Picchu is on are high enough to block the entire valley from outside view, keeping Machu Picchu super hidden.
Of course no visit to Machu Picchu is complete without a game of frisbee!
Despite the expense and the extreme amount of floppy hat wearing tourists, the ruins as well as the setting of Machu Picchu are magical, beautiful, spectacular, magnificent, and every other superlative you can think of. We could have sat there all day gazing at the ruins below in awe. Being there with our friends from home really put our journey in perspective. Pretty crazy to think that we drove from San Diego to Machu Picchu!