cañón del colca, perú

Next stop on my lonely, winding adventure was Colca Canyon, land of the llamas/alpacas/vicuñas/who knows which are what. The most famous part of this 4000+-meter deep canyon (that's more than twice the Grand Canyon, y'all) is the Cruz del Condor, where you can see some pretty badass birds put on a show. We were told they're pretty shy... but I'd say they were pretty show off-y. Anyways, don't take my word for it, but do make sure you don't make the mistake I did and sign up for the trekking tour if you wanted to go all the way down in there, because although our tour-guide team of Percy 1 and Percy 2 was highly entertaining, the hour and a half you spend in the actual canyon is not worth the hefty entrance fee even at the South American rate. But at least you should get to see lots of adorable fuzzy creatures, plus alpacas are totally one of those things the internet is obsessed with so it's probably good for your instagram.

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machu picchu

At this point I've got a horrible backlog of South America photos and an equally horrible number of projects and papers and impending exams piling up for the next couple of weeks, so the outlook for blogging looks grim. But hay, I went to Machu Picchu and, obviously, I need the whole internet to know. Check it out.

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cusco

Zooming in on Cusco.

I arrived to Cusco on a bus from Lima, the last few hours of which was a looping ride around mountains and through clouds and I woke up and emptied my stomach so I could arrive as hungry as possible to the city.

Which brings me to an important/unfortunate piece of information: Peru is a terrible, terrible place to be vegetarian. If I had held to it more strictly I'm sure I would have dropped dead of hunger. But then Cusco, if you're cool with trekking the stairs on low oxygen, is full of vegetarian gemstaurants that serve rice and beans and guacamole and soups and salads and paradise on a plate.

The weather is odd in January, quirkily flitting between cold and drizzly/pouring and hot and sunny, so come prepared with layers and something very waterproof. (Feminine frustration sidenote:)I was forced to go for this oversized men's North Face windbreaker in the last photo, which I bought so large because apparently women only want to wear such colors as hot pink and neon orange and clearly only men should benefit from the privilege of more demure colors, a privilege I rebelliously took for myself. But it worked out okay in the end because a) if there's one time I don't care about stylin', it's when I'm making my way across a continent with a 27-liter backpack and no shampoo, and b) dry butt.

All in all a lovely place to rest on your way to/from/around Machu Picchu. They do say to start with Machu Picchu, as the altitude at Cusco is actually higher, but I say start with Cusco and then all that climbing at MP will be a breeze.

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ruins around cusco

Next stop: Cusco, and old friends.

I hate to have to admit this, but I'm a bit jaded on the ruins front. After ancient Mesopotamia I can't help but wonder why the Incas didn't figure out how to stack stones until 600 years ago, but maybe I set my expectations too high. But there is actually a ton more to see in and around Cusco than Machu Picchu - the Incas were still super-prolific stone-stackers, plus there's cool mountains and rolling hills and llamas galore. And everything has cool names (Quechua is a very cool-sounding language). I highly recommend taking at least a few days to explore, if nothing else because you can only buy entrance as a pricey-ish package deal, so use it or lose it! I'm only showing the highlights here, because... these are all I got around to see.

First, there is Sacsahuamán, seen below with Cusco in the background - because it's actually just a short hike up from the city! It's actually just some walls with a view, but what is particularly impressive about Incan walls is how perfectly they carved the stones to fit together, with who-knows-what technology. Plus if it's windy you can get some pretty dramatic gusts up on that hill - great time to pose for those shivering supermodel-style Christmas card photos.

Then because of limited time, we chose to go for Moray (that circle thang) and the salineras (salt fields). We took a combi/colectivo out a bit and then hired a car for S/.60 (about USD$30) between the two of us to take us around for the next 2 hours to the two different sites and wait. Moral of the story: bring more friends because then it's cheaper to split. Even though I'm more of a sweet tooth, I have a strange affinity for naturally-occuring salt deposits. Plus you can always grab a giant chunk and bring it home, and then you can season at least one tomato salad by Argentinian standards, harhar.

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lima

The semester's started full-gear and I've barely had time to sleep with all the starting up and catching up being thrown at me. So I figure I better start writing before all memories of my backpacking adventures through South America are replaced with political data and theory and a swirl of economics terms I'm not quite sure I understand.

My trip started in Lima. I landed relatively fresh from NYC sometime in the late evening and nabbed a cab to my hostel in Miraflores, one of the richer & safer neighborhoods of Lima, where I had booked 3 nights through New Year's to explore the city.

It turns out I didn't need nearly so much time - if I'm being perfectly honest, I found Lima to be relatively unremarkable. From a touristic point of view, it reads as a generic Latin American city (with better food, but that's Peru in general). Not so for my hostel companions, however - there was plenty of revelling, which I opted out of my curling up in the corner with my book like a scared kitten.

Solo travel lesson 1: Lone introverts do not do well in large party hostels. (Not the time to challenge your anti-social tendencies in a big way.)

That's not to say that Lima is a complete dud - there's the food, as I mentioned before (although a word of caution to vegetarians - I was all too happy to break my self-imposed dietary restrictions for ceviche), some interesting ruins, and of course the sea. The highlight for me was New Year's Eve, when a girl I met on the plane from Houston invited me to her friend's NYE party with an insane view, and the whole city exploded with fireworks for nearly half an hour. But unless you plan on staying and partying, don't give yourself 3 whole days to explore - they are better allotted elsewhere in this beautiful country.

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