I can't believe I've been back more than a week... my brain is definitely still in Peru a lot of the time but I think I'm mostly back to the real world now. It took me about a week to get caught up on my sleep - I wasn't jet-lagged, just really tired. Too much fun and excitement on the trip combined with a few hard hotel beds and I didn't get a lot of sleep on the trip. But it really was an amazing adventure. Alas, it's time to wrap it up and move on to other projects.
Our last morning in Machu Picchu Pueblo / Aguas Calientes, we did an 8:30am excursion at the hotel to see the 3 Andean bears they have in captivity there. It's part of a program that they do to rescue the bears (which are endangered), rehabilitate them and then re-release them when they're ready. The bears were having their breakfast when we got there, and it was fun to watch them. They're really quite beautiful.
This is the oldest, Pepe. He's about 22 - the bears live to be about 25-26, so he was getting up there. He was pacing the cage facing a path, obviously wanting out! He and Kevin had a bit of a stand-off.
After hanging with the bears, Emily and I went back out to see the petroglyphs and get a few pictures.
After that, we hung out around the fire in the lobby during a little tropical rainstorm. It was lovely to sit in the warmth - everything about this hotel was really fabulous. I was also amused to look around the room and see that every single person from our group either had an iPad or a Kindle to keep themselves occupied. lol. After the rain, we walked down to the Inkaterra cafe for a last lunch. A lovely little 3-course lunch... lol. I had a fabulous soup, a rigatoni with veggies in cream sauce, and crema volteada for dessert. It was decadent, but wonderful. After that, we walked down to the train station to catch the Hiram Bingham back to Cusco. Again, just gorgeous views for the entire journey, although the atmosphere was quite different. We were leaving in late afternoon and the train was full of talking and energy instead of the quiet awe from the early morning trip out.
About an hour or so away from Cusco, we were passing by a certain area where they announced that there was some kind of celebration including a costumed person - it was too loud for me to catch the whole explanation, but we got our own demonstration! He came out and tried to surprise people in their seats and then grabbed Lisa for a dance up and down the aisle.
That was followed by an alpaca wool clothing fashion show, put on by our car attendants and cheered on by our costumed friend. The "models" really had a fun time with it and worked their outfits. There were a lot of really gorgeous things, but I did manage to refrain, although it was a near thing. Thankfully Jim was there to help me recognize being caught up in the moment (our group did a LOT of buying) vs. really wanting something. So I just admired. We got back to Cusco around 7:30 and with the traffic, our bus got us to the hotel shortly after 8. We met down in the hotel restaurant for our farewell dinner at 8:30 where we had a really fabulous final meal. We also had a great time - our end of the table couldn't stop laughing and it made it really fun. At the end, Jim presented all of us with signed copies of "Chicken Soup for the Christmas Soul" which has one of his stories - a lovely parting gift. We shared a toast and savored our desserts and then went to our rooms to pack and get some sleep.
Tuesday morning was our last day, so Mary, Francesca, Gianluca and I all went out for a little early shopping. We went to the grocery store down the street - a few people wanted to pick up gifts and some snacks to take home with us (why don't we have all those delicious little cookies and things like they do?) and I also got a bag of native quinoa to cook with at home. Then we went to a few more of the native handcraft markets that seem to dot all of the tourist areas in the city.
I got the last of the gifts I was looking for - I did quite a lot of Christmas shopping in Peru... not for everyone, but a few things that I thought certain people would really like. And presents for me, of course. lol. It's too bad mom couldn't be with me on this trip - she would have adored all the markets. Nicole too.
We went back to the hotel and packed up our purchases and put our suitcases out for pickup and then a smaller group of us headed over to the monastery next door to our hotel where they have the ruins of the Incan sun temple, Qorikancha. We already had tickets from our city tour a few days before - we had spent too long at the alpaca showroom and didn't have time to do it then, so we wanted to make sure to see it. The monastery and church were built up around the ruins after the Spanish conquered Cusco - it was given as a gift, but some of the original walls and things are still there.
Here you can see the original walls inside of the ones built for the monastery:
There was also a place where you could walk outside and down onto the front lawn where there was a beautiful view out toward the city:
After our visit to Qorikancha, we split up for lunch or whatever... Emily and I took off to check out some nearby restaurants and ended up in a little place on a street behind the hotel. I was able to try aji de gallina, which a friend at work put on the list of foods that I needed to try in Peru (it's a yellow pepper sauce served with chicken, potatoes and rice). It was delicious. They also served the fried corn kernels that are typical Peruvian food the way we serve chips or bread. They were so addictive! Like our Corn Nuts only way better.
After lunch, Emily and I found a few little shops on that street that had very good prices - I was able to get two clay torros like the ones we saw at our hotel in Aguas Calientes - they put them on the roof of a house when it's completed to bring good luck and prosperity. The guy sold them to me for 5 soles each, so about $2. We went back and managed to wrangle our goodies into our carry-on bags, and then it was off to the airport.
We had a pretty good flight from Cusco to Lima where we had to wait about 3 hours before we could check in for our flight to Miami. Like I said earlier... the Lima airport is weird. We were already checked through from Iquitos to Miami, but I don't know why they bothered. We had Subway (during our visits to the Lima airport we'd already tried most everything else) and alfajores and hot chocolate from Starbucks before getting in line. That was a nightmare. We were in line for 2 hours because our flight ended up being canceled so they were trying to re-route people, but then our flight was rescheduled but delayed. No one would ever say for sure what happened, but my guess is that since the airport closed at 1am (like I said, totally weird airport), and the plane coming in was running so late, they didn't think they could get us out before the airport closed. Then the airplane ended up coming in early enough that they thought they could turn it. So we made it onto our plane and were sitting at the gate at 12:30am with them telling us to hurry up and get in our seats so we could take off before the airport closed. I still can't quite get past that... maybe it's some kind of regulation that's unique to Lima or Peru that they can't have planes going in and out after 1am? But either way, we made it. And again, I was totally exhausted so combining that with some Excedrin PM had me completely unconscious until the captain announced our final descent into Miami.
Once we got there and got our bags (about 6:30am), I said goodbye to Francesca, Gianluca and Emily who were getting in a rental car to go out shopping (Francesca and Gianluca were staying a few days and Emily's flight to London didn't leave until like 6pm) and then I sat with Marilyn and Lisa until Lisa's husband came to get them. By then, I was able to head up to Delta and check in my bag, and then it was just business as usual. I ran into my friend Eric in Minneapolis - small world, right? and then Melody was picking me up in SLC at about 8pm. It was such a shock to be outside in the cold! It hasn't been that cold here in the last week, but I've busted out my heavy coats. Coming back to this weather from a tropical climate only makes me miss Peru more. But I'm mostly back in the swing of things... back at work, laundry done, mostly unpacked and caught up on sleep. But I have to say, this trip was definitely worth the 2 year wait with all of the delays and postponements (I was originally supposed to go in March 2010). I feel silly saying it was the trip of a lifetime, because honestly, I've been blessed to have a lot of those. But it was. And I'd even go so far as to say that it's one of the best trips I've ever been on, if not the best trip. I had a wonderful time, met great people and made lovely new friends, and did some really amazing things and saw incredible sites. I would go back there in a second. I loved it all.