Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peru on a Budget - Trip Report

It's only been a month since our Peru trip and I'm glad that I managed to finish blogging about our trip within a short time frame (been on a blogging marathon for the past few days). Here's a summary of all the blogposts for this trip:
If you haven't noticed, I really enjoy planning for my travels and share about my adventures and experiences on this blog. Hubby and I spent about 2 months planning for this trip and we're glad everything went smoothly according to the plan. And since I spent quite a lot of time working on our itinerary, I thought it may be a helpful reference for those who plan to travel to Peru in the future. Sharing is caring right...haha!! 

And for those who are wondering how much money we spent on this week-long trip, here's our expense report...total of $935 for 2 person. =) To be fair, we saved a lot on flights by using our frequent flier miles. And I must admit, traveling is definitely much more affordable now that I'm earning USD. =P

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cusco Ruins

May 30 (Saturday): Tambomachay - Pukapukara - Qenqo - Sacsayhuamán 

6th day of our trip and we've pretty much covered most of the attractions around Cusco & the Sacred Valley. For the last day of our sightseeing, we ventured to the outskirts North of Cusco to visit 4 Inca ruins that was all included within Circuit 1 of the Partial Boletico Turistico. Instead of the Boleto General that covers 16 attractions and costs 130 soles/$47 per pax, we opted to buy only the partial ticket that covers 4 attractions around Cusco for 70 soles/$22 coz personally, I'm not that interested to see so many ruins. =P

After following a tour the day before, we were back to our backpacker's mode to explore the ruins ourselves and travel like the locals. Our plan was to take the collectivo to Tambomachay, then walk all the way down to Cusco visiting other ruins. The sequence of our sightseeing was Tambomachay - Pukapukara - Qenqo - Sacsayhuamán (from farthest to closest to the city). 

Our hostel's host gave us directions to the bus stop where we could hop on a local bus to get to the ruins. The 15 minutes walk to the bus stop turned out to be quite an interesting one. Cusco's streets are so narrow they could barely fit a car, and we had such a small curb to walk on. We could feel the cars sweeping by our hands! And as if the streets are not narrow enough, we saw a Peruvian lady walking on the streets with 2 Alpacas following her obediently...lol! 

The bus stop was located in front of a local market, everyone seemed to be selling the exact same thing...haha!! While we were trying to look for the bus, a collectivo that was waiting to fill their seats approached us and said 'Tambomachay, Tambomachay'. We negotiated for 2soles/$0.50 per person and squeezed into the collectivo with other locals. As I mentioned before, it's so easy to hop on local transport here and it's so cheap!! 

The journey to Tambomachay took only 20 minutes. According to Wiki, 'the function of the site is uncertain: it may have served as a military outpost guarding the approaches to Cusco, as a spa resort for the Incan political elite, or both.' I prefer the latter...haha!!

Just slightly down the road from Tambomachay was Pukapukara. This fort is made of large walls, terraces, and staircases and was part of defense of Cusco and the Inca Empire.

 Pardon my shallowness but I was more attracted by the scenery than the ruins/stones. =P

Passed by some local villages and locals as we walked to the next ruin. I think we were the only crazy tourists who were walking to all these ruins coz we didn't see any other tourists along the way...haha! 

Walk, walk, walk...took us almost an hour to walk from Puka Pukara to Qenco. Just the two of us, walking hand in hand, enjoying the scenery, chatting about things I don't rmb now...so romantic right? Hahaha!! 

Random scenery in the middle of don't know where....

Finally made it to Qenco after a long walk. Honestly, I have no idea what this ruin was for...all I see was huge stones. :P 

Once again, I chose to enjoy the scenery instead of the ruins. =P Took a break and had some snacks while enjoying the view of Cusco...quite a cool location for a picnic right? =P

Walked for another 20 minutes and arrived at our last attraction for this trip - Sacsayhuaman (pronounced as Sexy Woman). =P The people in the top right photo were actually having picnic there, baking potatoes in the ground...what a random place to be picnicking...lol!!

Stunning view of Cusco city!! Love the blue skies & white clouds!!

Because of its location high above Cusco and its immense terrace walls, this area is frequently referred to as a fortress. The Incan stonework is also evidenced here, the huge boulders fit together tightly without mortar, pretty impressive!

We spent only approximately 3.5 hours covering all 4 ruins and by 1.15pm, we've had enough of the ruins so we decided to call it a day and started walking back to the city.

Walk, walk, walk again...but this was an easy walk coz it only took us 15 minutes from Sexywoman back to our hostel. 

Some interesting things we saw along the walk. We were wondering how the cars go downhill coz the streets are so narrow it would be difficult to do a 3-point-turn. Our question was answered when we saw a cab reversing all the way downhill...lol! Just as I thought public pay phones are on the verge of being extinct, we saw a lady using a pay phone by the street...awesome! =)

Left: Partial boleto ticket ; Right: Machu Picchu tickets. Both with our names on it and we had to show our passports at all entrances.

May 31 (Sunday): Cusco - Lima - Panama City - Washington DC - Nashville - Huntsville

Finally, it's time to say goodbye to Peru and begin our loooong journey back. 

Checked-out of our hostel at 6am and took a cab to the airport. It was Sunday morning so the streets were very quiet.

7.45am flight from Cusco to Lima on Avianca.

4 hours transit at Lima airport. Hubby was excited about the McD waitress service in the airport.

1.40pm flight from Lima to Panama on Copa Airlines. Copa is a flag carrier for Panama so that explains our transit in Panama. 

7.00pm flight from Panama to Washington DC and spent the night at DC airport before catching our final flight to Nashville the next morning.

So that's a wrap for our week-long Peru trip! Thanks Peru for the amazing Incan ruins, breathtaking sceneries, friendly people, beautiful weather, and never-ending hikes!! It's been a great adventure indeed!!

Sacred Valley - Moray & Maras Salt Mine

May 29 (Friday): Sacred Valley - Moray & Maras Salt Mine

Typically, I'm against following tour groups when I travel. Our initial plan was to find local transport to travel around Sacred Valley (from Ollantaytambo to Maras/Moray), but after doing some research online, it seems like it was gonna be quite a hassle. Then I found a 1-day Moray/Maras tour on our hostel's website for only $13/person, so we decided to go for that instead.

Hopped on the bus and started our tour around 9am. Our first (unexpected) stop was the Traditional Textiles Center in the town Chinchero. The local ladies gave a demo of how textile is made traditionally by spinning fur or wool from alpaca/llama, dyed using natural ingredients such as flowers/corns, and weaved to make colorful clothings. It was pretty cool but the entire demo was done in Spanish...me no understand. =P Surprisingly, they didn't push for us to buy anything so it's really more of an effort to promote their traditions that just to make money.

Our bus drove us through small farm roads to have a glimpse of the agriculture landscape in Sacred Valley. A lot of farming activities in the region are done in this valley due to its special geographical and climatic qualities. Similar to a lot of developing countries, a lot of farming activities are still done by hand. 

Saw a lot of Quinoa plants as it's one of the main crop in the Andean region.

When we arrived at Moray, we were told that they no longer sell single ticket for this site. We would have to buy the Partial Boleto Turistico ticket that comes with tickets for 3 other sites, which we didn't plan to visit (i.e. Chinchero, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo) for 70 soles/$22. Erm what stupid system...so we decided to give this a pass. And since we had nothing to do while waiting, I asked hubby to help take some jump shots. =P

This is what I do when I'm bored...lol!!

So somehow I ended up getting into the site coz even our tour guide thinks that the ticketing system was stupid and she thought we should see the site at least from far. =P Moray was a massive Inca agricultural terraces, where the Incans used to grow different type of crops at each different level based on the large temperature difference between the top and the bottom. It may not look big from far but if you take a closer look, you will spot some people walking around it and that gives an idea of how big these terraces are.

I had zero interest in hiking all the way down to the terraces, especially not with more sore legs. So just a few photos and selfies and I was done with this attraction. =P

Next stop...Salineras de Maras (Maras Salt Mines). This is a privately-owned mine so the entrance fee was sold separately and cost only 10 soles/$3 per person. As you can see, there are thousands of individual salt mines that form unique terraces on the hillside.

Maras is a tiny little old village where pre-Columbian terraced saltpans are still harvested in the traditionally backbreaking and poorly remunerated way by the villagers. But we didn't see a lot of people working on the mines when we were there, I guess they get more money from the entrance fees than selling salts...lol!!

Two anti-socials left the tour group behind and wandered around ourselves...haha! There were some areas where you need some balancing skills to go through especially when there's people coming your way. You would be soaked and salty if you fall...lol!

Ended our tour around 3.30pm. Overall, 6 hours tour for $13 is not bad at all. 

Visited Qurikancha (Temple of the Sun) for 10 soles/$3. This is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building when they conquered the Inca Empire.

I'm not a fan of history so this place wasn't my cup of tea. =P P.S. "Do not sit on the Inca Walls." Can I stand on it instead??

Chinese food for dinner...haha I'm so Asian! I have no idea why but Chinese food always seem to be the cheaper option around. In fact the food tastes pretty good and the portion was also huge...just like how they described it on the menu...'OVERFLOW'...lol!!

Quaint Ollantaytambo - Pinkuylluna Hike

May 28 (Thursday): Ollantaytambo (Pinkuylluna) - Cusco

After a successful day in Machu Picchu, we were back in Ollantaytambo again after a 1.5 train ride. Ollantaytambo was our 'base camp' here as it was our main gateway to Aguas. As compared to Aguas, Ollantaytambo is so much less crowded and quieter, perfect for anti-socials like us...lol!! 

It was already 9pm when we checked-in our accommodation for the night...Ollantaytampu Hostel. We booked a twin room with shared bathroom for $20/night but got a free 'upgrade' to this quad room. =) This hostel is kinda hidden in an alley but the town is really small so it doesn't really matter where you stay. You can basically walk everywhere within 30 minutes. One thing we noticed in the hostels here is that they don't have heating/air-con/fans, only thick blankets but it was sufficient to keep us warm.

This quaint little town is home to a charming network of narrow cobblestone streets, traditional stone buildings and irrigation channels, that have been continuously inhabited (by the Incas and their descendants) since the 13th century. This is where the Incas retreated after the Spanish took Cuzco. Much of the town is laid out in the same way as it was in Inca times. It’s one of the few surviving examples of an Inca grid system.

Instead of going to the main attraction in Ollantaytambo - Temple of Ollantaytambo, we chose to visit the smaller ruin on the opposite side called Pinkuylluna coz it's free of charge, whereas the other site would cost at least 70soles/$22! 

We read online that the trail is not well paved, but it turned out to be a lil' worse that what we expected. Just 10 minutes into our hike and we encountered this harrowing path by the cliff. To be honest, both of us are not fans of heights and even though we saw others going up and down that narrow path, we decided that it wasn't worth taking the risk. P.S. Even Wikitravel advised tourist to "Go with a friend or at least make sure you let your hosts at the hostel know where you have gone in case something should happen." Lol!!

So this was where we decided to stop, enjoy the view and take photos. I would love to be able to get to the Incan storehouses (top left pic) but some risks are really not worth taking, even though we had travel insurance...haha!!

Even from this altitude, we could see some of the most spectacular views of the Ollantaytambo ruins and town. =)

After taking enough photos and videos, we hiked down and returned to the main square.

The Ollantaytambo ruins on the left and Pinkuylluna on the right. 

Had lunch at Hearts Cafe. It was nice sitting outside and watching people passing by. Food was pretty good and we found out that they donate all of their profits to a Peruvian non-profit Living Heart, which runs projects benefiting women and children in rural indigenous communities of the Sacred Valley. Good to know that we contributed our small part to the local community. 

Random photos of locals in Ollantaytambo. Peruvian fashion is very colorful.

Time to bid goodbye to this charming town and take the collectivo back to Cusco. This time we were not as lucky and had to wait for about 45 minutes for the van to fill up but we were in no hurry. Spotted some students who just got off school as we drove through Urubamba town.

Arrived Cusco at 3.30pm. We were dropped of at Plaza San Francisco, which was only 500m from Plaza De Armas, the main square in Cusco, where our hostel was located. 

Our accommodation for 3 nights in Cusco...Feel At Home hostel. Booked 2 beds in the 5 bed dorm with breakfast included for a total of $26/night. Our roommates were cool and considerate. The hosts were also very nice and helpful. The hostel is located in a small market alley but it's not noisy at all and best of all, it's very centrally located within 3 minutes walk from the main square. =)

Found this restaurant called Marcelo Batata on TripAdvisor when we were trying to search for somewhere with good Alpaca steak.

The restaurant has a nice rooftop terrace overlooking the city but it was too chilly sitting outdoor so we retreated back into the restaurant to enjoy our dinner.

Hubby ordered the Alpaca steak and I got the ground Alpaca steak stew (stone bowl reminded me of bibimbap). Hubby also tried Pisco Sour (Peruvian cocktail). This was our first time eating Alpaca and it's actually pretty good (try not to picture the cute Alpaca though). Another famous dish in Peru that we didn't try is Cuy coz if you google it, you'll agree with me that it's too cute to be eaten. =P

Went for a walk around the main square after dinner. The city is quite pretty at night, especially when the lights from the houses on the mountains are all lit up!

That's all for Ollantaytambo. Next post...Moray & Maras Salt Mines.