Monthly Archives: January 2018

Machu Picchu – In Pursuit of the Inca Legacy

Discovered in 1911, Machu Picchu is an apotheosis of the great Incan Empire that dictated the western part of South America in the 14-16th century. Believed to be a royal estate or a religious site, this majestic citadel located on the Vilcanota mountain range northwest of Cusco, serves as a mausoleum to a glorious Incan past that met its demise under the Spanish conquest. This World Wonder, visited by thousands of tourists everyday, embodies the undying spirit of the Incan legacy and pay homage to the once great civilization. Our main destination in Peru is indeed this empyrean stony ruins perched on a mountain top. And for Peru, its a national pride and a goose that lays golden eggs. (Seriously, the entry ticket was lot more expensive that I expected).

 

The closest city (and international airport) to Machu Picchu is Cusco.  From Bogota, I went to Lima and then took an early morning flight to Cusco. The fight offered some beautiful views of the Peruvian Andes and make sure you look outside when the airplane is about to land, as the view is amazing. On arriving at the tiny Cusco airport at 8 am I took a cab to the Pariwana hostel. A buoyant and spirited atmosphere and since the check in was after 2 pm, I slept on a couch in the internet room. My fellow travelers, Prateek and Jay arrived by noon and we decided to take a walk around the town. A small cozy historic town with numerous churches, narrow cobbled streets and beautiful squares. The largest and most vibrant of the squares is Plaza de Armas. Prateek and Jay (both vegetarians) tricked me into having lunch at an amazing vegan restaurant named Green Point (should try Coca khabura and tacu tacu) where we met Carlos, a French costume designer from LA.  After some alpaca wool shopping and wandering around the squares, we returned to hostel at around 7 pm and joined their BBQ night accompanied by Ruan and Jordan from Canada and Diego and Gabriel from Peru.

 

At 6 am on 20th November, we took a cab to Poroy train station. Yes, we’re too lazy (and no time) to take the 4 day Inca train hike to Machu Picchu. Its a luxury tourist train called the Perurail Vistadome (of course, it was expensive ~$85 one-way). The 3.5 hour journey through fields, valleys and mountains is quite fascinating. However, what intrigued me the most was that the train took  wrong turn and had to reverse to correct the course (I know, I was surprised too). On reaching Machu Picchu, after grabbing a alpaca meat lunch, took the $24 bus ride to the top of citadel. The weather didn’t look very promising when we got off the train as it was cloudy and drizzling . But it got better by the time we had our lunch. Its an interesting drive through dozens of hairpin bends, and don’t bother struggling to get good pics, because its gonna get much better when you reach the top. Piece of advise, make sure you book the entry ticked way in advance as they get sold out pretty quickly. At 1:15 we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. And this time, the weather Gods didn’t let us down.

Peru (43)

Ethereal! Serene! Sacred!

I just cant describe how beautiful it is. The photos don’t do justice to this place, to be honest. What we did first (after the photo session, obviously) was to hike up to Sun Gate. It takes about 50 mins to get there and was quite strenuous due to high altitude. The view from there is totally worth the effort. Following the sun gate, we walked down through the ruins and took the obligatory selfie with the Llamas. Though in ruins, the stone walls and stepped terraces remind us of the architectural and aesthetic acuity of Incans. Surrounded by lush green mountains and sheer cliffs, it would’ve made for an excellent (and super fancy) hotel, had it been build this century. If you have time and energy (good stamina and endurance), you can hike up the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu provided you purchase the tickets in advance.  After spending 4 hours (and super thirsty) we got back to the bus stop. Do not forget to get a souvenir Machu Picchu stampon your passport (I’m not lying and yes, you can get stamps on your passport other than immigration control).

 

On our way back to the station, we walked through the market and did some minor shopping (They accept US dollars at 1:3). We took the Perurail Vistadome back and there was a fashion show on board. We took a cab back to the main square and grabbed dinner. Try Ceviche if you like seafood (Heavy lime flavor). Subsequently, we retired into our dorms at 11, as tomorrow was gonna be a long day.

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Colombia – 7 hours at Bogota

I’ve always loved visiting new places and it is even better when its a new country. So, when Prateek suggested a trip to Peru and Bolivia I was all in. Who knew, I was in for an even better surprise. When I booked my flights, as always, cheapest flights are the priority (Not to sound racist or anything, but Indians love cheap stuff). And guess what, the airline me a bargain and top it off with a 10 hour transit at Bogota, Columbia. First thing I checked was whether I had visa free access to Columbia, and guess what, I do. So, our 2 country trip suddenly expanded to 3, courtesy Avianca Airlines. For my travel partners, it was 4 instead of 2 as they had a much longer transit on return at El Salvador. So, this is the story of how I spent my 7 hours at Bogota before taking the flight to Cusco.

It all began at JFK airport on the 18th of November 2017, when Prateek, Jay and I boarded the 6.30 am Avianca flight to Cusco with a few layovers. Even though I slept at the couch in the Wingtips lounge at JFK, I dozed off the moment I boarded the flight. We reached El Dorado airport at Bogota at 12 noon (same time zone as Baltimore). Its a huge and impressive airport. First thing we did was to get Colombian Pesos, ($1 = ~3000 pesos). If you wanna feel rich, check your bank balance at Columbia and guess what, the symbol for Colombian pesos is also $. Try not to have a panic attack when you see that a decent meal would cost you $10,000 (Relax, its pesos ~ 3 USD). We cashed in USD 50 and got 135,000 pesos. After clearing the immigration, we left the airport at 2 pm. I left my backpack at the cloak room. First destination was Bolivar Plaza which is more like the town center.

First impression about Bogota, its just like India. Similar cars, motor cycles and terrible traffic.  However, you drive on the right, unlike India. The roads are pretty good with special lanes for buses in center and metro like bus stations every kilometer or so with over bridges. And there are awesome graffiti all around. We went to an upscale restaurant near Plaza de Bolivar for lunch. The weather Gods didn’t seem to favor us much as it was quite a cloudy day. When we reached the Bolivar plaza, there was a prayer service at the Cathedral and they released a big rosary beads made of hydrogen balloons into the air.  Around the Bolivar square, you have the Cathedral, the City hall, the National Capitol and the Court. Walking on the cobbled pavements towards the heart of the city, we found crowded streets with amazing street performers staging mimes, dances, songs, instruments, cosplay and even posing as statues. Quite a lively and beautiful place. Further down, the path is paved in red bricks with stepped fountains in the middle and lined with trees.

If you have very little time, the must visit place in Bogota is Monserrate. Its a hill near the city which offers breathtaking views of the entire city. It was indeed our main destination in Bogota. There are 2 options to go up; Cable car and a train. We decided to take the cable car up and train down. The cable car ride up is quite steep and if you have fear of heights, you might wanna stay away from the windows. As we moved up, the magnificence of Bogota revealed itself to us. On top of Monserrate is a church and a small park. However, the highlight is the stunning view of the city. Even though it was cloudy, the sight was majestic.  Unfortunately, after a while it started to rain. We took shelter near a coffee shop. Another stroke of misfortune was that the train down to the city closed before we got there. So, we had no choice but to take the cable car back down again. The train goes through some really steep tracks and tunnels, so I’d urge you to take it if you get a chance. Another trivia, I thought restrooms in Iceland were expensive,  but here, its $600-800 (Just kidding, its in pesos).

Columbia (2)_FotorAfter spending about an hour at Monserrate we came down and went to a coffee shop. If you miss the American food, fret not. There are plenty of Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks etc. However, we went to a Colombian coffee house. Main objective was to get WiFi. After grabbing a coffee, I decided to head back to the airport as I had my next flight at 10.30 pm. My friends however had an early morning flight next day. I called an Uber using WiFi (and had a hard time finding the driver, because WiFi doesn’t work once you leave the coffee shop). I had a chat with him using google translate ( You hard me right; All hail Google). While I went back to airport, Prateek and Jay wandered around the city to try the authentic Colombian coffee.

I reached the airport at around 8:15 and wandered around till I boarded my flight to Lima. The only place I regret not being able to visit was the Gold Museum at Bogota. Before Colombia gained an infamous reputation with drug cartels, it was known for gold. With this, I conclude the day 1 of our South American Odyssey.  If you have 10 hours, I think you can cover most of what Bogota has to offer.

Next stop: Cusco, Peru.

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