mountains

Machu Picchu, Peru

As a little kid, I was obsessed with Machu Picchu for a while. My school had large, glossy, color picture books of Incan ruins, and something about the way the city looked like a castle or its unlikely perch on top of a mountain ridge captured my imagination. Brushing against the stones of this ancient place and gazing down into multi-thousand-foot valleys from precipices delivered deep joy.

The town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, despite clearly being the result of the booming tourist economy, had a few gems. First, traveling to the town is only possible by train - my favorite mode of transportation. The tracks cut right through one axis of the town. There were also a couple of very nice beer joints, including one at which we quickly became favored clients, knowing a thing or two about good beer and staying long hours to play cards and eat guinea pig pizza. We only stayed two nights, and despite the general touristy tone of town, Aguas Calientes had its own charm and didn't lack surprises.

Cusco, Peru

Although we spent one night in Lima, it was a very short sleep before heading back to the airport to fly to Cusco. The city sits near 11,000ft high in the Andes; airport billboards warn travelers (with images of puking gringos) to beware of altitude sickness. Coca tea, which is supposed to help, is abundant. None of us fell ill with altitude sickness, but we were all exhausted from travel, the lack of oxygen, and general excitement.

We left Cusco after one night to explore Machu Picchu and returned; we left again for a day to climb Vinicunca and returned to stay again. While in Cusco, though, we ate amazing food (Gaston's Chicha is fantastic; Bodega 138 has the best pizza; you can get street food - risky, I know - for 3 soles) and found the good beer spots (Cholo's is tucked away up a hill and has quiet, courtyard seating). We even found delicious breakfast (The Meeting Place - a Christian mission-based, not-for-profit, volunteer-run organization) with kittehs.