Archive for ‘On Holiday’

December 5, 2011

Legends of the Hidden Inca Temple

If you thought that Marina and I would just play it cool and have a relatively quiet beach vacation, you are mistaken. Of course we had to shake it up a bit, so we spun the globe, pointed to a spot and ended up in Cusco, Peru.

Our first day there we made some friends at the airport and shared an amazing two-hour lunch with them. Carlos and Francesca were reporting on a fashion show that was going on in Cusco that week. We had a great time chatting with them, tasting some delicious Peruvian food, and just hanging out.

The next day we left for a two day trip to Machu Picchu. We travelled by train to get there and it was really cool because we could look up through the glass roof and look out to see the jungly terrain. It exactly matched what I had imagined it would be like, green, rocky and beautiful.

After learning all about the different native tribes in Chile, I have come to appreciate the variety and Chilean traditions that span over thousands of years. Thank you Pre-Columbian Art History. But along with the admiration of all things Chilean, I had developed a bit of an aversion to all things Inca because of the number they did on the native cultures. One look at Machu Picchu and I had to set my feelings aside and stand amazed at the skill they displayed in their city. Some of my favorite things about the city are the details that these intelligent people built so many years ago.

Example #1

Somehow the Incas knew where the fault lines were on the mountain. If an earthquake were to occur the city would have been torn apart and all of their work would have been destroyed. Not so fast there. The Incas were one step ahead of the game. They built a fault zone along the line so that as the ground shifted the city remained intact. Genius. (You can see how severe the fault line is by the huge chunk of the mountain that is in shadow.)

Example #2

Farming on a mountainside can’t be easy; especially when the mountainside is super steep. Never fear, the Incas have it under control. They cut notches out of the side of the hill to create the perfect agricultural plots. What’s more is that they also developed a greenhouse in order to cultivate plants that only grow at sea-level (like potatoes) at higher altitudes.

We hiked all day up to the sun gate on to see Machu Picchu from afar, around to the Incan bridge on the backside to see the sheer drop off (wouldn’t wanna be there during an earthquake), and back through the ancient city. Every year Peru claims that they are gonna permanently close down Machu Picchu because the city is wearing down. I’m pretty sure that if it has survived hundreds of years a few pesky tourists aren’t much of a threat, plus the upkeep can’t be that bad. They have some awesome free lawn mowers that work 24/7 for free!

Once we got back into Cusco, we decided that we wanted to see more of the Sacred Valley so we took another all day tour of the other sites. The Spaniards found all of these Inca cities so they were all in ruins, but it was still good to see some more cities. All in all we toured Pisaq, Ollantaytambo and Chinchurro. We had good weather for the majority of the day which made hiking through the ruins a pleasant adventure.

The last night we were in Cusco we went to a recommended restaurant from our trusty guide book. The food was delicious and there was even live music. We had a great time in Peru and it was delightful the whole time. As we looked out of our window in the plane to say goodbye to Peru, we were sad to leave. Then at the end of the runway with our last glimpse of Peru we were scared to leave. Why you ask? I’ll let you be the judge.

November 17, 2011

I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blow….

Last Thursday I took an overnight bus from Viña to Pucón with my friend Ayn. Equipped with the address of our hostel and a poorly hand-drawn map, we got off the bus and found ourselves in a quaint little town. I still was a little dazed and sleepy from the bus, but the sun had risen and the town was just beginning to wake up. No more than fifteen minutes later we were standing in front of the gate to Nature Hostel. Gina greeted us at the door and welcomed us inside her beautiful rustic home. From that moment on I knew that this trip was just what a needed; a big ‘ol breath of country fresh air.

When I told my host mom that I was going to Pucón, she kept commenting on how far south I was going. Every person after her as well added their own oo’s and aah’s at my “aventura al sur”. I’m sorry, but Pucón is not the south. It’s still in the middle of the country. 12 hours south is nothing when a country could stretch from the top of northern Maine to the tip of southern California. I soon realized that any city south of Santiago is considered “the south” and any city north of Valpo is considered “the north”. That leaves a two hour window for “the middle”. Seems kinda silly to me, but that’s the way the cookie crumbled I guess.

After settling in, Gina talked to us about the best way to use our time. Ayn and I discussed our options, planned it out and jumped to it. With a backpack full of snacks and empanadas for lunch we got on a bus (aka tiny white van) and got out at a bridge which would lead us to some waterfalls. The day was perfect for a walk through the woods in search of cascades. We decided to stop at the “saltos” (means “jumps” but really they were tall, skinny waterfalls) at an abandoned picnic area for lunch before hitting up the big waterfalls. It was definitely worth the walk.

After lunch we continued our walk to the “Ojos de Caburgua” which was a more extensive array of waterfalls that all collected into a pool which spilled out into some rapids. As much as I wanted to just dive into the water, I held back because I knew that it was coming from the glaciers in the mountains and it was in fact freezing cold.

After spending the day hiking, we hitchhiked back to our town and bought some food for supper along with lots of fruit for the weekend. While preparing supper we met Yael and Shira on holiday from Israel and Daniel from the UK. We traded traveling trips and stories over a tasty dinner and dessert.

Early in the morning the next day our guide Pepo picked us up along with a German couple from the hostel next-door to climb the ominous volcano Villarica which overlooks the town. I know I’m not super athletic like my marathon running sister. And no, I have never climbed a mountain before. I must say though that climbing up a very steep slope, in boots, in the snow, is not an easy task. I just threw around the idea that I was going to climb a volcano, thinking no big deal ya know… WRONG! It was exhausting. That being said, it took our group 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach the summit which is a quite respectable time so I’ve heard. For those of you that have never climbed a snow-covered volcano, the way that you hike is in a zig-zag pattern following one after the other. You keep your icepick in the uphill hand and always switch it as you change directions.

Looking up the mountain it didn’t seem like the top was THAT far away, but it was. In order to not psych myself out, I tried to focus on the footprints of the person in front of me. That worked really well and before I knew it, I had made it to the top. ¡Vale la pena! The view was spectacular and for a moment I was speechless. For one, because I couldn’t believe how far I could see out. But also because I couldn’t believe I had finished. Definitely a mountain-top experience.

From the top I could see into Argentina, the lagoons surrounding Pucón and Villacura, and also the ash cloud of the neighboring volcano Puyehue.

I’ve always wanted to look into the top of a volcano. Villarica in particular was especially interesting because it is an active volcano that always is smoking.

It has erupted every ten years and is now a couple years overdue. What I would love to see more than inside the top of the volcano is lava pouring off the sides, but I didn’t especially want to be climbing the volcano/near the volcano when that happened. Still would be really cool and it could happen at any time! I was joking with Pepo that we had better make a sacrifice when we get to the top to give us safe passage down. Stepping a little closer to the edge I could smell and then unfortunately taste the sulfur and hear the magma churning. It sounded like crashing waves. A full sensory experience!

Exhausted, we returned to our hostel and hung out with our new friends Gefen and Sheli also traveling from Israel. They had climbed the volcano the previous day and it was fun to share experiences. That night we drove to the hot springs of Puyehue. There were seven pools with differing heat intensities lying right next to some rapids. It was so so so relaxing to sit on a rock with hot water up to my chin, listen to the churning river, and star up at the hundreds of stars. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day.

Our last day in Pucón we took it easy. We walked around the town and visited the laguna enjoying the nice weather. I caught up on lots of homework that I had been neglecting, but it was a little less painful since I was sitting on a beach looking out at the calm lake.

Gina, Gefen, and Sheli were all at the hostel when we came back and invited us to eat lunch with them. Ayn and I ran out and bought a dessert to share and we returned to a wonderful feast and great company. The conversation switched from Spanish to Hebrew to Spanish to a few words in English and back to Hebrew in the blink of an eye. With our dessert we drank Israeli coffee. I’m not much of a coffee person, but this was DELICIOUS. I’ll definitely be searching out a Israeli coffee vendor when I get back to the States.

After lunch I tried to relax as much as I could because I knew that it was going to be a long bus ride back. As we walked to the bus stop I couldn’t stop staring at the volcano. Hard to believe that I climbed that whole thing just the day before. And even though it would have been cool to see it erupt, I was content to watch the endless sulfur clouds billowing from the cone from afar.