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Day 19 - Cusco

A lot of people come to Cusco just because they want to go to Machu Picchu, and a lot of them leave right away. What a pity! Cusco is a beautiful and historical city, and is definitely worth a day or two to explore! We are taking an overnight bus to Lima tonight, so we have almost a whole day to explore Cusco. 
We went to the Museo Inka, which has a lot of artifacts all the way from the pre-Inca period. Then we went to the market to have some ceviche (a must-eat in Peru!), and it is soooo cheap and good. There are also other street food, like chicken noodle soup, roast guinea pig, kabob-like grilled meat and potatoes, etc. They are ridiculously cheap and DELICIOSO. After feeding ourselves, we continued to explore the city, we went to Plaza de Armas, San Blas, cathedrals, etc. The most memorable or impressive thing about the city is that, ruins are basically everywhere! Being the "Inca capital", there were signs of Incan structures everywhere and you can see that the Spanish built upon the existing city. On the street, you can see the signature stone walls all over the city. The churches, the stores, and the buildings were built on top of those walls. The whole city is just a ruin! 

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Day 18 - Machu Picchu

Oh my God, I can't imagine I actually made it there! "Thee" infamous Machu Picchu, a signature Inca site from the 15th century located up on the mountain (2430 meters above sea level). It is literally "the castle in the air", as you can see from the pictures, how it's hidden in the clouds among the mountains. There are two main railways that go up to Machu Picchu from Cusco, Perurail and Inca rail, the price is similar if you book from the railway companies, which are located in Cusco. In order to secure a seat, I would recommend booking the ticket online as soon as you know the date you are going. We took the Perurail. There are 3 classes of the train, the cheapest is Expedition, then Vistadome, then Hiram Bingham. I honestly don't think the Vistadome is worth the extra money, and I can barely notice the difference. As for Hiram Bingham, this is absolutely the most luxurious ride to Machu Picchu, as they provide onboard meals, with wine and entertainment. We of course went with the cheapest option. We found a travel agency in Cusco, and we purchased tickets from them, which includes taxi from our hostel to Poroy station, and then the train to Machu Picchu Station, then the entrance fee to Machu Picchu, the mini bus ride up to the Machu Picchu (quite a scary ride), and a tour guide to help explain the historical features of the ruins, and of course all the transportation back to the hostel. It was very nice that everything was taken care of. For those who have the time and energy, you can always chose to go up by walking the Inca trail!
The Machu Picchu was thought to be unfinished and abandoned as a result of the Spanish conquest, and because of its location, it wasn't found until about 100 years ago, and thus it is so well-preserved. The whole site can be divided into an agricultural sector (terraces) and an urban sector (houses), as well as an upper town (temples) and a lower town (warehouses). It was built using the classic Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls, and this technique is called ashlar. Blocks of stone are cut to fit each other perfectly without mortar, not even a knife can go between the stones. The Incas are masters of this technique, which we still do not understand how they did it! 
We climbed all the way up to the top to get the golden shot of the machu picchu, and the weather wasn't very good that day, so it was too foggy that we could barely see it! (picture below) I was beyond sad..... I mean, it is not a place that you come to every day, and honestly, the train ride costs quite a bit too...... So, we decided that we should wait and see if the fog goes away, and an hour later, it DID!!!! OMG!!!! Once it did, I just kept clicking my camera non-stop!! A lot of friends would say, you can always get a picture online.... I was like WHAT?!!! For me, it feels sooooooo different when you took the picture of the place you visited. That's just priceless. 
It is definitely an experience to be able to see this with your very own eyes and touch this with your bare hands (Everything is original!!). It is amazing how the Incas could have gone all the way up here, and built a whole community right on the cliff of the mountain. This is definitely one of must-go places on earth. 

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Day 17 - Sacred Valley

 http://eatingatjoes.com/2015/04/02/trader-joes-giant-peruvian-inca-corn/

http://eatingatjoes.com/2015/04/02/trader-joes-giant-peruvian-inca-corn/

After an overnight bus from Copacabana, we arrived to the historic capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco at 5am in the morning!! After we checked into a hostel, not to waste any time, we went to get the ticket to Machu Picchu for the next day. We came across a tour that we can take today to the sacred valley, with an English speaking tour guide. As much as I enjoy exploring by myself, it is nice to not have to worry about the bus schedule as well as having someone explaining the history to you at the ruins. 

Stop #1 - Pisac
Pisac is a Peruvian village in the sacred valley. The most impressive feature is the agricultural terrace on the steep hill side constructed by the Incas, which are still in use today. There are some souvenir and food stands where we stopped. We found these giant corn steamed on the cob, and we were very curious to try it! It wasn't as sweet as the smaller corn, but it was delicious, and I later found this snack in Trader Joe's!! (Picture on the right) The tour guide told us that they have more than 100 different corns and potatoes! I wonder what they all taste like lol.

Stop #2 - Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is a town that was built by the Incas around the mid 15th century, located at ~2800 meters. It is a royal estate of the Emperor Pachacuti, and you can still see a lot of the structures there, like the temples, the storage houses, and the terraces. It definitely took an effort to hike all the way up, but you can see the town from the top. The rainstorm was chasing us that day, and we were trying to hurry to the top before it started raining. 

Stop#3 - Chinchero
We went to an adobe colonial church, which was built in the early 17th century. What is interesting about this place is that the church was built upon the foundations of an Inca temple. Deep into the church, you can still see the signature big stone blocks of Incan architecture. 

It was a very historical day and it was amazing to see all those ruins from hundreds of years ago, and I can't wait to see Machu Picchu tomorrow!

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Day 16 - Isla de Sol

There are two main islands, Isla de Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the moon). They are both pretty big islands, and we decided to go to Isla de Sol.  There are a bunch of bus companies a few blocks up the lake, and you can purchase a boat ticket to the islands there. It is a rocky, hilly island, and there are no vehicles on the island for transportation. That just means you get to walk around! There are over 180 ruins on the island, and most of them are dated to the Inca period. 
We got there in the evening, and there are a lot of hostels near the dock, but also a lot more up on the top of the island if you are willing to climb. We stayed at the Inca Pacha, which is very close to the top. It was a little rough walking up with all our belongings, but when you get to the top, the view was just awesome. There are a lot of restaurants at the top, that allows you to have dinner with the view of the lake. The locals who live there use donkeys for carrying heavy things, as you can see from the picture below, a lot of donkeys! I am a city girl, so it is exciting to see donkeys, sheep, chickens, etc. 
We planned to wake up super early to see the sunrise from the island, but unfortunately, it was raining super hard all night and it was all cloudy in the morning. Instead, we walked around the island, and you can see ruins are literally EVERYWHERE. You can see agricultural terraces, which adapt the steep and rocky terrain for agriculture. It is a very big island, and we did not have the chance to go too far to the other side of the island to see more ruins (sad :/), but our next stop is Cusco, Peru! The infamous Machu Picchu awaits!

 

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Day 15 - Lake Titicaca (Copacabana)

Look at this!! It looks like an ocean, doesn't it? It is the largest lake in South America by water volume and the highest lake in the world (3,812 m/12,507 ft), Lake Titicaca. The lake was split between Bolivia and Peru, and I think this is just the perfect stop to cross the border. We took a bus to the most west city of Bolivia,  Copacabana, from La Paz.
We walked around this small yet beautiful city for half day before heading to one of the islands. There are some stores that sell souvenirs for tourist, including little reed boat and some dried llama fetus (SCARY!). We also saw this beautiful church "Basilica of Our Lady". The church is white on the outside, and with the blue sky, you almost feel like you are in Greece.
We followed the tourist attraction sign and ended up on Cerro Calvario. It is a hill with 14 different stations marked by crosses, and when you get to the top, it overlooks Lake Titicaca, which is spectacular (See the picture above!). It seems like a spiritual place for the locals, as you can see a lot of street vendors selling candles and incense at the top, and also people praying.    

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Day 14 - Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku)

Everybody heard of the Machu Picchu, but not a lot of people heard of these incredible ruins called Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku. Today, we joined a tour to Tiwanaku, which is located in west of Bolivia, about 1.5 hour from La Paz. In the bus terminal, there are a lot of bus companies that go to Tiwanaku everyday, and the bus fare includes a round trip from La Paz and a tour guide that speaks English. 
It was believed that the area around Tiwanaku may have been inhabited as early as 1500 BC. Since this ruin is so old, a lot of the stuff we saw were reconstructed, and even with reconstruction, there is not too many structures to see (you will need some imagination). A couple things to see here: the Akapana pyramid, the gate of the sun and a bunch of monoliths. 
There are a lot of people believe that this is the work of some aliens, because if you look at the stones carefully, you can see some really intricate stonework that is hard to imagine how people could have achieved this thousands of years ago. Also, the stones were brought to the site of construction over 60 miles away, and they are huge! (up to 100 tons) How did that happen without modern technology!? When humans do not understand something, it must be the alien's work! This archaeological site remains one of the most mysterious and fascinating ruins in South America for archaeologist, and there are still a lot that has yet to be discovered! 

When we were back in La Paz, look what we saw! Instead of a reindeer, it is a llama with Santa Claus! You will only see this here! This is the most awesome and exotic Christmas I have ever had! Love it. 

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Day 13 - La Paz

We took a bus from Oruro to La Paz, and here we are! The highest capital in the world! Almost 12,000 feet or 3650 meters. We originally wanted to go to the Toro Toro National Park before heading to La Paz, but we didn't have enough time. The Toro Toro National Park is known for their dinosaurs tracks, and all the stone formations are just amazing. You can totally imagine the place with dinosaurs! Anyways, La Paz is quite a unique city due to its geological feature, and it is recently named the New7WonderCities. The city is sitting in a bowl, surrounded by mountains, and as you can see from the picture above, the city just expanded outwards, having been built on the mountains. Interestingly, the altitude of the areas reflects the social class of the people who live there. The lower areas of the city are the more affluent areas. 

The city is not too big, therefore you can get to most tourist attractions on foot. We went to Plaza Murillo, Iglesia de San Francisco, some more cathedrals, some museums, and the witches' market (La Hechiceria). The witches' market is mainly for tourist, and it is a great place for getting souvenirs! I love those aguayo! It is a multi-colored cloth that native people use for table cloth, baby sling, bindle, etc., very versatile! I bought a couple for friends and family, thinking that it can be used as table cloth. 

There are 2 other places that we didn't have time to go, Valle de la Luna and Yungas Road (The death road). The death road is legendary for its danger and it is known to be the world's most dangerous road. It has attracted a lot of mountain bikers for downhill biking. For people who want to go to northern Bolivia for the amazon forest, this is one of the few routes that leads there on land. 

Last thing we did in La Paz was the teleferico (Cable cars). The city goes up, when it moves away from the center, so it is a very smart idea to  build the cable car for commuting! As a tourist, we just want to take it so that we can see the night view of the city from up high, and there's definitely no other city like this!

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