We started the week in Guayaquil - the biggest city in Ecuador. It's on the coast so it's much hotter than and it's just so much different than Cuenca! It was so weird seeing McDonald's and people wearing shorts. They have a very cool malecón (boardwalk) over the water and we spent quite a bit of time hanging out there. To be honest I was totally exhausted and feeling a little under the weather so I wasn't really listening to our city tour (we've had a lot of tours this semester...) but it was still fun going there.
Iguana park! (they get fed in the park so they apparently never leave)
Pirate ship on the malecón
When we left Ecuador, the real adventure began! We flew to Lima and spent the day in Miraflores - a cute barrio of Lima. Then my group split into two: three of us girls were going to Machu Picchu and the other three were going to remain in Lima for the week. This is where the ridiculous amount of travel difficulties began. We planned to take a bus from Lima to Cuzco, but when we went to the station we found out it was cancelled for fear of tsunami waves. Long story short, it took several hours and visits to different travel agencies to change all of our tickets for the week. (No, you can't just do it online, you have to do it in person...) We were so thankful we spoke good enough Spanish to figure this all out without misunderstandings. When we finally found a hostal for the night I basically passed out from being so tired. Every single Peruvian we met along the way was SO kind a helpful to us though!
We headed to Cuzco on our luxurious bus and traveled for 21 hours. Yep. 21 hours on a bus. When we arrived in Cuzco on Sunday, we found out they were still celebrating Carnaval there! That was a surprise to us and we still don't really understand why. We attempted to explore the city, but ended up getting completely covered in espuma (foam) and water.
I found Cuzco to be a very charming city! We mostly stuck to the area around our hostal and the main plaza. It was more rustic and I could feel the elevation when we went up the stairs. There was a lot of really beautiful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, cool restaurants, and an awesome market in which I bought an alpaca sweater. At night, even on the week nights, there were tons of people out and about and there were hundreds of people in the main plaza practicing traditional dance! So fun to watch. We also met a lot of interesting travelers from around the world in our hostal.
Monday was the big day... Machu Picchu!! We woke up around 5:30 am to catch a taxi to the station where we boarded a bus that drove us through the mountains for a couple hours. I think I exhausted my playlist of Spanish music on my ipod. Then we waited awhile at the train station and boarded a train for two hours. The train station was kind of magical. It was cool being so high up in the mountains, and the Andes continue to amaze me.
If we thought we were done traveling, nope, we had to take another bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. It's so hidden... you literally can't even see it until you're there. No wonder the Spanish never found it! We decided to hire a guide for 2 hours which was a very good choice. It was so incredible!!!
They used rocks to chip/shape these boulders... must have taken awhile...
The terraces the Incas used for agriculture - engineered to withstand heavy rains and not fall down the mountain.
Temple of Three Windows - it's aligned with the stars so that light shines into the windows on celebratory days
The Sacred Rock - I felt it appropriate to take a picture with it given my last name
It was really incredible seeing MP, but I'm not going to ramble on and on about it so as not to bore you =] Unfortunately, our bus BACK to Cuzco was also cancelled because some rocks fell onto the highway. Luckily, we were experts at rearranging and were able to secure a cheap flight for the next day and rearrange all of our hostals as well. We spent a day/night in Lima with our friends just hanging out and went to a fancy restaurant for dinner on the pier. Then the rest of my group headed back to Chicago (their program is only a "quad" or 1/2 semester) and I finally headed back home to Cuenca!